- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) A western Maryland dairy farmer whose investment in cloned cattle led to his financial ruin pleaded guilty today to 15 counts of animal cruelty for underfeeding his herd. The convictions include two felonies for two cows that starved to death.

Gregory C. Wiles, 41, of rural Williamsport, was given a suspended three-year prison sentence and placed on probation for three years. The plea agreement in Washington County Circuit Court bars Wiles from owning livestock while on probation and requires him to repay the Humane Society of Washington County $22,000 to help cover the group’s cost of caring for more than two dozen cows that animal control officers seized in December.

Wiles also must relinquish seven cattle and a horse living on his property. And he must disclose the location of any livestock he or his family have sold since Dec. 6, when officers executed the first seizure warrant.

Humane Society Executive Director Paul Miller said after the hearing that the latter provision is aimed at ensuring the health and safety of any cattle Wiles owned.

Wiles told reporters authorities hope to locate a clone named Genesis, a 7-year-old Holstein that Miller said isn’t among the animals in the society’s possession.

“They would like to know where that clone is,” Wiles said. He refused to discuss the clone’s whereabouts.

In return for Wiles’ guilty plea, prosecutors dropped 19 other counts, including three more felonies stemming from starvation deaths. Of the 33 cows seized in December, seven died and one gave birth to a bull calf, leaving 27 now in the Humane Society’s care, Executive Director Paul Miller said.

Wiles’ lawyer, Assistant Public Defender John Maclean, said in court that Wiles hadn’t intentionally underfed his cattle.

“He fed them what he thought was appropriate,” Maclean said. He said cold weather may have increased the cows’ need for food, but that Wiles “thought he was doing enough at the time.”

Miller told reporters that neighbors concerned about the condition of the animals had contacted authorities, who arrived to find one cow already dead. In charging documents, Miller wrote that the cows were “chronically and habitually underfed.”

Wiles didn’t explain himself in court. Outside the courtroom, he and his wife Becky tearfully told reporters they had done their best.

“We would never hurt those animals, never,” Becky Wiles said.

Gregory Wiles said the charges were the culmination of five years of difficulty stemming in part from his decision in 2001 to have one of his most productive milk cows cloned twice. He had planned to profit from sales of the clones’ offspring, but business dried up after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked farmers in 2003 to refrain from selling products from cloned animals into the food supply. For years, Wiles dumped milk from the clones and their 15 offspring.

One of the clones died in January 2006. That month, the financially strapped Wiles was evicted from the family farm he managed for failing to pay rent to his father Charles. He placed most his cattle on two nearby farms.

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