HSUS Takes the Credit (Except When it Comes to Racketeering)

After a slow January, the HSUS media machine is once again operating at full-tilt, putting out several press releases a day on average. It seems HSUS will let the press know about every dog it gives a chew toy to. And in CEO Wayne Pacelle’s blog posts listing HSUS accomplishments over the last few years, we noticed that several of them were actually activities done by HSUS affiliates, such as sterilizing street dogs in Bhutan.

If Wayne is happy to have HSUS take credit for its affiliates’ work, why, then, doesn’t he also embrace the idea that HSUS should be held accountable for the actions of its affiliate the Fund for Animals?

The Fund for Animals was party to a failed lawsuit against the owner of the Ringling Bros. circus, Feld Entertainment. While that litigation was ongoing, the Fund merged with HSUS. So it only makes sense that HSUS would be happy to be a party to the case, right? After all, HSUS is more than happy to list its affiliate work as HSUS accomplishments, not to mention the legal notion of successor liability.

But as you may recall, the case didn’t exactly go as planned for HSUS/the Fund and other animal rights groups that were plaintiffs. A federal judge threw it out in late 2009, finding that the key witness was not credible and a “paid plaintiff” whose testimony would be afforded no weight.

Paid by whom, you ask? Animal rights groups involved in the litigation. That apparently includes a $2,000 check signed by Wayne Pacelle himself and sent on HSUS letterhead by an HSUS vice president to a front group involved in the alleged witness bribery scheme.

Feld has since sued HSUS and two of its attorneys under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, alleging racketeering, fraud, and witness bribery. Feld is also asking for attorneys fees in the first case.

Pacelle has written a couple of letters to newspapers recently saying that HSUS wasn’t a party to this first case. And HSUS has tried to get out of potentially paying attorneys fees in this failed first lawsuit by claiming it is a “non-party” in court filings.

It’s rather laughable. Here’s how a Feld spokesman cut through the noise after Pacelle’s latest shuck-and-jive defense—which was less a defense and more a transparent attempt to continue maligning the circus:

[T]he Humane Society of the United States was directly involved in alleged racketeering and other wrongful conduct underlying Feld's pending federal RICO case against the nonprofit and others. The Humane Society controlled the Fund for Animals, an original plaintiff in the manufactured Endangered Species Act case, through a merger that automatically made the Humane Society a "party."

The Humane Society of the United States also controlled the case through two of its in-house lawyers, who served as counsel of record for all of the other co-plaintiffs.

Wayne’s trying to have it both ways. But if his best defense is spouting a few easily dismissed attacks, then his prospects for prevailing in either case don’t look good.

In the meantime, the mainstream media is taking a look at the case. If you missed it, be sure to view the TODAY Show’s coverage of the case after the ASPCA settled for $9.3 million.

What’s interesting is that the TODAY Show actually went to film footage at Feld Entertainment’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Feld has invested millions into the Center, a 200-acre facility that serves as a retirement home for elephants as well as a breeding facility (Asian elephants are endangered).

All you hear from HSUS and other activists, who want to take elephants out of the circus, is how bad the circus is. It’s a false portrayal. Consider, for example, the ASPCA itself sent Feld a letter in 1996 praising Feld for its humane treatment of elephants.

The RICO suit has apparently been referred to a judge who will oversee discovery. The case is progressing slowly, and surely more interesting facts will emerge. We’ll keep you posted as they do.