Manorville horse rescuer sues ex-prosecutor

Mona Kanciper, 49, head of a leading horse

Mona Kanciper, 49, head of a leading horse rescue group shown on her farm in Manorville (April 25, 2012) (Credit: James Carbone)

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A Manorville horse rescuer's legal battle with the Suffolk Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals expanded this week when she sued a former Suffolk prosecutor, saying he enabled the group to violate her rights.

Mona Kanciper, 50, of Manorville, head of New York Horse Rescue, was acquitted in November of animal cruelty charges brought by the SPCA, and an appellate court overturned a misdemeanor conviction of endangering the welfare of a child from the same case. Kanciper has state and federal litigation pending against the SPCA and now has filed a federal suit in Central Islip against the former prosecutor in the case, because he directed the SPCA investigation.

She is seeking $5 million in damages from Leonard Lato, now a private Hauppauge attorney. "This lawsuit was an unintentional consequence of a deposition with Lenny Lato," said Kanciper's attorney, Alan Sash of Manhattan. Sash claimed Lato's remarks in the deposition were the suit's genesis.

Both Kanciper and Lato agree he revived the case against her when it seemed to be dead, but they differ on the reasons for that.

In her suit, Kanciper said Lato improperly took over the case after his friends in the SPCA contacted him. He was then chief of the district attorney's Insurance Crime Bureau. Both the district attorney's office and the SPCA's attorney, Joseph Salvo of Manhattan, declined to comment.

Lato said there was nothing improper about his reviving the case, and that he did so not because friends asked him, but because the chief of the bureau that had the case before him was "lazy and stupid." He noted in both a deposition and an interview that he often worked on "special projects" such as this for District Attorney Thomas Spota.

Other non-insurance fraud cases he led -- cited by Lato himself in the deposition -- included the effort to sustain Martin Tankleff's conviction in the slaying of his parents, which was thrown out by an appellate court, and the prosecution of SentosaCare nursing home nurses who had resigned during a labor dispute. Those charges were dropped amid revelations that the company made campaign contributions to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who intervened on its behalf, and that the company lawyer contributed to Spota's campaign committee.

Lato said Spota initially was annoyed that he'd taken over the Kanciper case, but he "never said I shouldn't have done it" and didn't ask him to drop it. Lato left the office after he and Spota had a falling out, but Lato said it was unrelated to the Kanciper case. Lato also said the SPCA approached him because members knew he was an animal lover.

Kanciper was acquitted of charges she abused dogs. The overturned conviction was on a misdemeanor charge involving tranquilizing a dog in front of a girl before euthanizing it.

Kanciper's suit claims Lato directed an improper investigation based on flimsy evidence and testimony from disgruntled former workers. Lato said he believed the case was solid. "This case will definitely get dismissed," he said of the suit against him. "It's a joke."

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