Tuesday, February 23, 2010

....Jolley: Five Minutes With David Martosko & RICO, The HSUS Dog ....

02/23/2010 07:46AM

It was a busy Monday, much like any other Monday this winter. The old bones were aching from clearing the driveway of the output of still another snowstorm. I was thinking a couple aspirins and a nap might be a good idea when Rob Cook perked things up. He had just forwarded a press release to me.

“Did you get this?” he asked in his email.

I looked at the headline: ”Racketeering Lawsuit Fingers Humane Society of the United States?.”

Now that’s an attention grabber. A vision of the ever dapper Wayne Pacelle, the top gun at HSUS, decked in prison stripes instead of Armani, flashed through my head. “Who,” I thought, “was giving HSUS the finger?”

Turns out it was Ringling Brothers, those kindly circus folk that HSUS and a few other animal rights organizations hammered with an animal cruelty charge a few years ago. In October, 2008, Federal Court proceedings began in a case involving a 2007 lawsuit filed against Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, claiming their famous elephants were subjected to ‘cruel and inhumane treatment.’

The suit alleged that the circus staff “routinely beat elephants, chain them for long periods of time, hit them with sharp bull hooks, break baby elephants with force to make them submissive, and forcibly remove baby elephants from their mothers before they are weaned.”

After some top flight lawyers on both sides of the issue fought it out in court, ‘mano a mano,’ Ringling Bros was exonerated. On January 27, the Entertainment Law Digest reported “A federal judge dismissed for lack of standing an animal cruelty lawsuit against the owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, saying the lead plaintiff, a former elephant caretaker, had received nearly $200,000 in illegal payouts from animal rights advocates.”

It didn’t take long for Barnum lawyers to strike back with that RICO suit, did it? Uncovering the existence of the suit were the folks at Center for Consumer Freedom who posted a link to the papers on their just opened web site David Martosko, one of the more outspoken folks at CCF and their Director of Research, was my first call.

“Would you be able to respond to a few questions?” I asked. Damn right, he would. Here’s the story from his side of the fence.

Q. David, let me quote a surprising press release that crossed my desk a few minutes ago: “In a landmark RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit certain to have far-reaching implications for the animal rights movement, Feld Entertainment and the Ringling Brothers circus sued the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), its lawyers, and several other animal rights groups last week.”

The Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization you serve as Director of Research, discovered the lawsuit in federal court records and you’re making the lawsuit available online at its newest website, Would you save most of us the trouble of wading through what’s probably a dense pile of legalese and tell me what’s in the lawsuit?

A. The Ringling circus is suing HSUS, its inside and outside lawyers, a few other animal rights groups, and a former “barn helper” who used to clean up after the elephants 12 years ago. They’re saying that the defendants committed fraud, bribery, and money laundering to skew a previous federal lawsuit in their favor. It didn’t work, by the way. That other lawsuit was bounced out of court in December.

In a nutshell, this new RICO suit claims that The Fund for Animals (which merged with HSUS in 2004) and its allies paid off a witness in federal court so that he would offer false testimony. At least $190,000 changed hands, and some of it was allegedly funneled through a “wildlife advocacy” nonprofit that the outside lawyers used as a pass-through.

Q. Other ‘animal rights’ groups are named, too. Who are they and why are they a part of the suit?

A. The other groups involved are the Animal Welfare Institute, the Animal Protection Institute - in this case, doing business as “Born Free USA” - and the ASPCA.
These nonprofits are part of the RICO case because they, along with the Fund for Animals, sued Ringling 9 years ago—claiming that the circus was abusing endangered Asian elephants. And their star witness turned out to be in it for the money. The judge ruled that he was not credible, and disregarded his testimony completely.

The circus is also suing the “Wildlife Advocacy Project” group at the center of the money-laundering allegations. It was run by the DC law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal. The firm is named in the RICO suit, too, and so are its three named partners.

I think the Ringling folks believe that the only reason they were stuck in nine years of litigation is because these animal rights groups and their lawyers committed crimes to game the system, and did it in a conscious conspiracy. That adds up to RICO.

Q. I doubt an organization as sophisticated and well-funded as HSUS will go down quietly. I expect them to kick their P.R. machinery into high gear and turn their high-priced, hired gun lawyers on the plaintiffs. It could be a really bloody battle. What do you expect to see?

A. I’m no legal eagle, but you’re right: HSUS has a staff of 30 paid attorneys. Even though two of them are named in this RICO lawsuit, the other 28 will be busy making life difficult for the circus folks—which is business as usual, really.

There’s probably not much they can do in the PR sphere to make this look good. I can’t recall any mafia lawyers who successfully played the victim card from the wrong side of a RICO case, for instance.

If there was a silver lining in this for HSUS, they would have put it in a press release last week. But I’m glad we found this suit in the federal court system so early in the process—putting this out in the open is the right thing to do.

Q. Let’s assume for a moment that Ringling Brothers wins this thing. How long would you guess it will take to reach a decision and what do the plaintiffs see as a fair judgment?

A. I think this will be another very long and drawn-out case, just like the earlier one which was tossed out of court. The defendants in this RICO case are appealing the earlier ruling, so that may have to be resolved first.

And it took five years to complete the document-sharing “discovery” process last time around. HSUS’s leaders are very good at demanding transparency and full disclosure from people they don’t agree with, but it seems they’d rather kick, scream, and drag their heels than follow suit.

That said, I’d be surprised if this was resolved in less than three years.

As far as money goes, this is a RICO case, so the plaintiffs can collect “treble damages”—that means they can recover triple what the corrupt conspiracy cost them in the first place.

Estimating conservatively, I think we’re in the $100 million range. More than enough to make HSUS start issuing pink slips. This has the potential to shrink the group down to where it was ten years ago. I’ll leave it up to your readers to decide whether that’s good or bad.

Q. Last week, CCF launched which got some positive notice among people in animal agriculture, especially among those involved in social networks like Twitter and Facebook. What was the impetus behind developing the web site? And would you also share the financing behind it?

A. Our faces are already on a lot of dart boards over at PETA. Remember But PETA’s more bizarre tactics make it easy to convince Americans that they’re a fringe group. HSUS is a different story.

Essentially, PETA’s role in the animal world today is to make HSUS look reasonable by comparison. HSUS is smarter, more patient, and better-dressed, except for those vinyl shoes. But their long-term goals are exactly the same as PETA’s. And since they have a much less confrontational and nutty style, proving that they’re closet radicals is a much more daunting task.

When you take out ads saying PETA is crazy, no one disagrees. But putting HSUS on the same public footing as PETA—where they belong—requires a more methodical approach. So bit by bit, we’re publicly sharing the contents of our research files on HSUS. We’re confident that if ordinary people see what we’ve seen, they’ll conclude what we’ve concluded: that HSUS is just PETA with a nicer wristwatch and fewer naked interns.

The funding for this project is coming from CCF’s regular program budget. We enjoy the support of ordinary Americans as well as businesses from all parts of the food chain.

Q. You claim the site will publish “a treasure trove of information about the Humane Society of the United States, including lots of surprising documents that HSUS would rather remain hidden from its contributors.” That’s a pretty bold statement. What kind of information have you published and how did you find it?

A. What we’ve published so far is just the first trickle out of the faucet. We’ve been paying close attention, and so have researchers in many of the industries that HSUS attacks regularly. Some of them have been very gracious about letting me browse their filing cabinets. And I’ve heard from a large number of ordinary people who have horror stories to tell about HSUS. Some of them have photos and videos.

I wouldn’t want to comment on our other research sources, but let’s just say they’re not all the kind of things you can call up on the Internet. We’re doing a little bit of what the old-timers used to call “investigative journalism.”

Q. Thousands of people read What would you like to say to them?

A. The Yellow Tail Wine episode was a great illustration of the power of genuine grassroots momentum. HSUS is like the schoolyard bully sometimes, overconfident and full of bluster, just hoping no one stands up for themselves. If livestock agriculture learns just one lesson from recent events, it should be that the bully isn’t invincible.

Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for and

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Racketeering Lawsuit Fingers Humane Society Of The United States