Special Collection: The Pepperdine Papers

This HumaneWatch special collection includes 13 files containing more than 1,500 pages of material comprising the files of former Humane Society of the United States Board member Susan Pepperdine. We obtained these documents in late 2010 from a third party. Ms. Pepperdine has confirmed their authenticity for us, and we are publishing them with her permission.

Generally, these documents concern a tumultuous period of time in HSUS's history, involving:

  1. an attempt by then-HSUS President John Hoyt to merge HSUS with the Michigan Humane Society in 1987; and
  2. the attempts of a minority group within HSUS's Board to promote institutional accountability, following their discovery that Hoyt and HSUS Treasurer Paul Irwin had been receiving lavish extra compensation approved by a small “Deferred Compensation Committee.”

Full descriptions of each of these 13 PDFs are below. (Historians will also want to download our complete inventory of the entire collection, conveniently cataloged in a single Microsoft Excel file.)

Tirana & Harmon Correspondence | Media Clippings | Michigan Merger | Board Correspondence | Audit Documents | Legal Correspondence | Legal Documents | Governance Documents | HSUS Directors | Combined Financial Documents | HSUS Publications | Miscellaneous Correspondence | Miscellaneous Notes


Hoyt was unsuccessful in merging HSUS with the Michigan Humane Society (MHS), in no small part due to revelations about the character and history of then-MHS director David Wills. Those revelations included a past felony conviction and a faked résumé.

Upon discovering that a small Board committee had discreetly authorized extra compensation “perks” for Hoyt and Irwin, the dissenting board members formed an Audit Committee to investigate the matters. The full HSUS Board unanimously approved the creation of this Audit Committee, which then hired Washington, DC attorney Gail Harmon to write a full report and offer her opinion on whether Board members and HSUS executives had violated any laws, and whether HSUS itself had incurred legal liability.

Harmon concluded that because the “extra” compensation (which included real estate deals and payments from "dormant" HSUS accounts) had not been reported on HSUS’s federal income tax return, the HSUS Board and executives were in serious legal jeopardy. (The full Harmon & Weiss Report can be found here.)

In response, other board members hired attorney Jacob Stein to write a second “independent” report on the situation. (Stein was Board Chairman Bill Wiseman’s personal attorney, which was a conflict of interest since the Harman report implicated Wiseman personally.)

Stein’s report had similar findings of fact as Harmon’s but came to different conclusions. Stein did not believe that the HSUS board and its officers were in legal limbo.

Later, an effort commenced (and it's not clear who initiated it) to contact the California Attorney General with a request for an investigation of HSUS’s alleged fiduciary malfeasance. The California AG’s office did contact HSUS, writing that “Information obtained by this office reveals that certain principals of the organization have engaged in a course of conduct that, in our opinion, is a violation of fiduciary duties owed to the charitable beneficiaries.” It’s unclear how the investigation ended.


Each set of documents can be downloaded individually. An inventory of the complete "Pepperdine Papers" is also avaliable. Please right-click on the name and select “save file as” to save each PDF to your computer. We recommend this option since some files are quite large.

Click HERE to download a Microsoft Excel file containing a complete inventory of the documents in each PDF above.

  1. Tirana & Harmon Correspondence

    This document contains correspondence to and from Gail Harmon and Bardyl Tirana. Harmon was the attorney in charge of the initial HSUS Audit Committee report in 1988. Tirana was HSUS board member Samuel Bowman's personal attorney, and represented him for the purpose of inspecting HSUS’s books and records.

  2. Media Clippings

    This file contain a series of newspaper clippings from the late 1980s. It includes pieces from syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, who in 1988 and 1991 wrote about the internal strife at HSUS.

  3. Michigan Merger 

    These documents pertain to the proposed merger in 1987 between HSUS and the Michigan Humane Society, including a transcript of a TV interview with then-MHS President David Wills; Wills’ guilty plea for breaking & entering; and a letter about Wills from the Washington Humane Society.

  4. Board Correspondence

    This file contains volumes of correspondence to and from board members, board committees, and HSUS executives. Most of the correspondences deals with requests for information and concerns about, and defenses of, the actions of the Deferred Compensation Committee, which helped funnel compensation to HSUS executives in relative secrecy. (Note: This file is nearly 700 pages long. Please download it before reading or printing.)

  5. Audit Documents 

    This set of documents includes HSUS’s revenue history from 1979 to 1990, HSUS financial statements and auditors’ reports from 1980 to 1985, and financial statements and reports for HSUS’s trust funds.

  6. Legal Correspondence

    This PDF includes interrogatory letters from attorney Gail Harmon to John Hoyt and Paul Irwin, letters from HSUS board member John Mettler stating his concerns, and correspondence with the California Attorney General’s office.

  7. Legal Documents

    This file includes "Form 990" tax returns for HSUS from the years 1980 through 1986. It also includes 990s for the National Humane Education Center for the years 1983 through 1986. NHEC was a defunct shell corporation controlled by HSUS that was used to funnel compensation to Hoyt and Irwin. This PDF also includes employment agreements for Hoyt and Irwin, and a draft of a class-action civil lawsuit (never filed, to our knowledge) against HSUS.

  8. Governance Documents

    This file includes copies of HSUS’s by-laws, minutes of various HSUS Board committee meetings (including the now-infamous "Deferred Compensation Committee"), a record of the HSUS nominating committee, HSUS’s board members at various points in time, and third-party papers on good governance procedures for organizations.

  9. HSUS Directors

    These are files from a folder that Susan Pepperdine labeled “HSUS—Directors.” They include a copy of HSUS's full Deferred Compensation Plan, letters from attorney Gail Harmon, and letters from the Audit Committee.

  10. Combined Financial Documents

    This file includes copies of balance sheets for HSUS’s board-designated funds from 1983 to 1986, insurance policy details for Hoyt and Irwin, and a proposed 1990 HSUS budget.

  11. HSUS Publications

    This set includes brochures for several HSUS annual conferences in the 1980s, a few copies of HSUS’s annual “report of the president,” and more recent printouts from HSUS’s website.

  12. Miscellaneous Correspondence

    This file contains a smorgasbord of uncategorized documents including letters from John Mettler and Bardyl Tirana, a statement from the HSUS Board regarding Jack Anderson’s columns, and news articles about alleged embezzlement at the Michigan Humane Society.

  13. Miscellaneous Notes

    This batch of documents includes a claim that HSUS spent half a million dollars as a result of executive misconduct, a draft letter to a state Attorney General from “board members,” and typed notes (unattributed, although we understand that they are Susan Pepperdine's) regarding complaints against Hoyt and Irwin.