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Posted on Aug 30, 2011 in Mythbusters | 0 comments

USDA Whistleblowers

USDA Whistleblowers

“Although APHIS Class “C” exhibitor licenses were intended solely for those who wish to exhibit animals to the public, USDA-OIG visits to 28 APHIS-licensed exhibitors in 3 states disclosed that 18 (64 percent) did not actually exhibit their animals, but instead maintained them as pets.  Using the regulations broad definition of an exhibitor, individuals obtained exhibitor licenses in order to circumvent State or local laws intended to protect the public by restricting private ownership of wild or exotic animals such as bears or tigers.”

 

 

USDA Inspector Files Whistleblower Complaint w/ OSC

Richard Botelho Jr, Animal Care Inspector for the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Heath Inspection Service, Animal Care agency, has filed a whistle blower complaint against USDA with the US government “Office of Special Counsel,” dated January 4, 2005.

As an animal care inspector and citizen of the United States, Richard Botelho Jr, believes the public needs to be aware of the prohibited practices by the Animal Care’s management at the eastern regional office. The OSC whistle blower complaint alleges multiple violations of federal regulations and law, gross mismanagement and waste of funds at Animal Care’s eastern regional office in Raleigh, NC.

The Animal Care agency is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which is federal legislation that ensures the humane care and treatment of certain warm blooded and exotic/wild animals. Animal Care conducts routine inspections at facilities that use regulated animals in research, exhibited to the public, sold wholesale and retail and transported. Licensed facilities would include but are not limited to zoos, circuses, wholesale dog / cat breeders, exhibitors, exotic / wild animal dealers and exhibitors to include transporters. Animal Care’s Mission Statement: AC provides leadership in establishing acceptable standards of humane animal care and treatment and to monitor and achieve compliance with the Animal Welfare Act through inspections, education, and cooperative efforts. Unfortunately, records show in the last several years Animal Care in the eastern region has failed to use enforcement to achieve compliance.

This lack of enforcement has caused more prolonged health and welfare problems for animals that AC is required to protect by the federal Animal Welfare Act. The lack of enforcement has also caused more incidents with potentially dangerous animals and the public. Animal Care in the eastern region is failing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, which is endangering the animals we are responsible to protect to ensure adequate care and treatment. Failing to enforce the minimum standards and regulations of the AWA, has harmful risks to the animals and to the public. Potentially dangerous animal are being allowed to be exhibited to the public without direct control of a handler(s), sufficient distance or barrier between the animals and the public.

The OSC complaint states the Eastern Regional Office allows licensee’s with a history of repeat noncompliance’s to operate without any legal action against such licensees. Evidence shows that Animal Care paid consultation fees to a licensee to consult with a facility which had a history of repeat noncompliance’s. Repeat violators of the AWA are seldom given warnings. When legal action is taken against violators, only a fraction of the proposed fine is given by a stipulation agreement. The licensee does not have to admit to the history of repeated violations when they accept a stipulation agreement.. Even when the investigation shows the licensee has repeatedly violated the AWA, which affected the health and welfare of the animals and or public, Animal Care issues a warning or small stipulation. Facilities often accept these stipulations and continue to violate the AWA minimum standards and regulations year after year, stating it’s just the cost of doing business. Even after facilities pay multiple stipulations they continue to violate the AWA without any further action by Animal Care. USDA licenses are rarely revoked and commonly renewed, even when facilities have a history multiple repeat violations and not in compliance. Research facilities pay thousands of dollars in stipulations which usually cost the taxpayers, because the research with animals is mainly funded by the US government.

Inspectors request warning letters and investigations for repeat violators of the AWA from Animal Care management, never to receive such requests, and without any reply to the inspector. There are several lawsuits against Animal Care from animal welfare groups for allegedly failing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, which may cost the taxpayers thousand of dollars in attorney and settlement fees. The eastern regional office has issued far less warning letters and stipulations than the western regional office. Recently there was an audit by USDA, Office of Inspector General of the eastern regional office, due to the lack of enforcement issued to facilities. This audit should now be available by FOIA.

The whistle blower complaint states the eastern regional office superiors hire inspectors in areas which are fully staffed. Inspectors with a lack of facilities and work are often sent to other inspectors facilities and paid for travel and lodging. Yet, other inspectors, with over a hundred facilities more than other inspectors, which have not inspected facilities for several years, are not given additional inspectors for their territories.

The OSC complaint states Inspectors are often approved to visit other cities and states, just to visit relatives or site see, as long as they conduct inspections in that requested territory. These visits are paid by Animal Care, the taxpayers dollars. In most circumstances the inspector assigned to that territory has never requested any additional help from his or her superior.

The whistle blower complaint states the eastern regional office of Animal Care purchases laptop computers, digital cameras, and other equipment when the current inventory are in excellent working condition. Unnecessary purchases are made before the end of the fiscal year to spend what monies are left in Animal Care’s budget.

The OSC complaint states inspectors were verbally reprimanded and their complaints not heard by Animal Care management when they refused to join coworkers at a training course at Plum Island, New York, where animals were given a variety of diseases without pain management before their death. Animal Care enforces pain management at research facilities, however USDA fails to follow such standards during its own training programs.

The whistle blower complaint states an inspector alleges that Animal Care management gave direct orders to an inspector to expunge files which were FOIA from a federal agency due to an investigation of a human death at a research facility. Other requested records from USDA, FOIA, have taken over 2 years and requesters still have not received the FOIA nor the reason for the delay.

Inspector Botelho has been inspecting facilities for nearly 5 years in SW Florida. He has conducted an astounding number of inspection, nearly 1000 inspections which have uncovered over 200 persons operating without a USDA license, some for many years. He has been given all successful evaluations each year, has no prior discipline, and has an exceptional sick leave record.

Unfortunately, since Animal Care inspector Botelho has complained about the gross mismanagement in the last several years and filed numerous complaints against his supervisor and Director of the eastern regional office, he has been retaliated against recently to include one 14 day suspension unpaid for alleged improper conduct.

Five days after serving his first suspension, he was issued a proposed 14 day suspension unpaid for alleged improper conduct. The improper conduct Director for investigations division for RMSES, stated inspector Botelho used profanity during a telephone conversation. The telephone conversation was a complaint by inspector Botelho due to RMSES investigators calling his home during late hours, harassing his family and waking his children.. Inspector Botelho’s first suspension states that he had 5 complaints against him for alleged inappropriate conduct from USDA licensees who have repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act and was issued either warning or stipulations. It appears that 5 complaints, which were here say, out of 1000 inspections is a very high percentage by Animal Care standards.

The eastern regional office Director has not disciplined inspectors with greater number of complaints initiated against them, to include Ethics violations (conflict of interest accepting gifts from licensees) AC management does not support their inspectors, but supports high profile licensees when complaints are initiated against them, especially if such facilities threaten lawsuits against the agency. There is a complaint procedure for licensees, however none for inspectors who often learn of complaints during an internal investigations or suspensions.

Management has unlimited funds for legal fees. Yes, their USDA attorney is provided free of charge for their gross mismanagement at the cost of the tax payers. There is seldom any accountability when government superiors are found guilty of discrimination or retaliation, except for future promotions. There is a free in-house grievance procedure for Animal Care employees, but it is evident that the decision would not be UN-bias, due to being made by the USDA administrator. Inspector Botleho has hired an out of state employment attorney in the last several months, which he has since paid over thousands of dollars in legal funds. It has been over two years since inspector Botelho filed initial complaints against USDA, APHIS, Animal Care. The US government being back logged with complaints and lack of staff has yet to set a hearing with a federal judge at the EEOC.

Congress needs to help federal employees do their job with dignity and respect, allowing them to file complaints in a timely and cost effective manner. Help is greatly needed for employees who file complaints against their superiors, due to the cost and time it takes for employees to receive their justice. Federal managers are allowed to issue discipline without pay and state that employees are guilty before employees can prove their innocence, costing thousands of dollars to them and their families. Most employees in inspector Botelho’s situation give into management and drop their complaint because of retaliation and the lack of funds for legal representation. Since inspectors fear complaints against them and do not get support from the management, most end up picking their battles at certain facilities, turning their heads from citing enforcement resulting in poor work ethics. Other federal employees are given ultimatums to resign or be fired. Federal managers need to be accountable for their gross mismanagement. History shows that employees who file whistle blowers eventually will be wrongfully terminated, hopefully history don’t repeat itself for inspector Botelho and congress will make some serious much needed changes in current federal regulations and laws.

Before Inspector Botelho filed this whistle blower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, he has recently forwarded such similar complaints to his chain of command to include: Deputy Administrator, Dr. Chester Gipson, APHIS Administrator, Dr. Ron Dehaven, Ann Venneman, USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Agriculture Committee, Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush and President George Bush.

Hopefully his concerns and complaints will be heard by all animal lovers worldwide for the health and welfare of the animals regulated by USDA, APHIS, Animal Care. Animal Care inspectors need to be supported to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. Repeat violators of the AWA need to be issued the appropriate legal action by Animal Care management.

 

 

Statement of Marshal Smith, USDA Whistleblower

 

 

I am perhaps one of the least likely people to have turned government whistleblower. I was raised in a family whose agricultural interests included a cattle ranch in south Texas. My father was Executive Director for the USDA’s Fever Tick Eradication program. For nine years I was a member of the 4H club. I was comfortable with structure and rules. I was also brought up to adhere to a personal code of ethics; that meant doing what was right.

 

With my father’s code of ethics as my model and a desire to protect the livestock industry, I joined USDA in 1976, while in my early twenties. To me, USDA exemplified doing what was right to protect the public and industry. I was assigned to a mounted patrol along the Rio Grande under the Veterinary Services Fever Tick Eradication Program. In 1979 I moved to Big Bend National Park as a Quarantine Enforcement Officer and continued riding horseback patrol for Veterinary Services. From there I was promoted to a Supervisory Animal Health Technician with the Screwworm Eradication Program, acting as an agricultural attaché to the US Embassy in Mexico. I resigned for a short time to go into private business but returned to USDA in 1984.

 

In 1984 I was assigned to brucellosis eradication efforts in Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was during my tenure in Arkansas that I first learned of the Animal Welfare Act. I learned that pet producers. i.e. breeders for pet stores were required to be licensed and inspected to conform with federal standards. Since USDA’s brucellosis eradication efforts had been successful I volunteered to participate in the Animal Welfare Program.

 

In 1985, I volunteered as an inspector for USDA’S Animal Welfare Program in order to ensure that puppy mills followed federal regulations. I recall the brief training period, which included viewing footage from a news show that had investigated pet store breeders. There was no discussion following that footage and no mention of the fact that USDA had, since 1967, been responsible for ensuring that conditions like those no longer existed. Thus began many of the naive assumptions I would make in the subsequent years when I was committed to believing the agency I worked for. I assumed then that since the problem of puppy mills had been publicly disclosed, USDA taken remedial steps. I assumed that the sobering news segment, my colleagues and I were viewing was old footage. In the field, I would learn that my assumption was wrong.

 

My territory included 40 kennels in northwest Arkansas. I approached my new job conscientiously. Records of these pet producers were transferred to me from a retiring inspector who told me, “If you’re smart you’ll do what I did, you’ll check everything is OK.” I told him that I intended to abide by the law. Another assumption: I assumed he was a lazy good old boy, that he was not voicing the agency’s mindset.

 

The kennels I visited had seemingly never been inspected. I was overwhelmed by what I saw: the wretched looking animals, the mounds of fecal matter reaching in some cases to my knees, at very least to the wire caging of the rabbit hutches which most puppy millers used to house the dogs. In every instance that I recall, the filth and deprivation were shocking. I recorded scores of violations prompting complaints to my supervisor in Little Rock. Luckily for me however, my supervisor, DR. W. J. Ward, who had carved a niche for himself in the Animal Welfare Program, supported me. I was given a cash award and Certificate of Merit for my inspection activities.

 

I assumed that further measures were taken to enforce the regulations and bring offenders into compliance. I later learned that cases were not developed for enforcement, and that those that were would languish years before coming to hearing, when they would invariably be dismissed. Thus some of the most horrendous conditions under which dogs were bred festered, unfettered by federal intervention.

 

I accepted a promotion and transfer to Jefferson City, Missouri in 1986 as a Compliance officer, later reclassified to Senior Investigator. In this capacity I documented violations of regulations which were administered under the Veterinary Service Program; the cases were a combination of animal quarantine, animal welfare and veterinary accreditation violations. During this time, my colleagues and I were instructed to review the Animal Welfare case files and close them out with a VS Form 3-60. These were “warning tickets” used to essentially dismiss cases due to a backlog at the Office of General Counsel (OGC). These cases represented the more deplorable pet breeding facilities and I was dismayed at USDA’s seemingly inability, or unwillingness, to deal with the violators as the law stipulated.

 

At this time USDA announced its re-organization which would separate the Animal Welfare Program from the Veterinary Services division. Agency officials publicly stated that the newly independent Animal Welfare Program’s workforce of VMO’s and inspectors would be dedicated solely to animal welfare inspections. With the focus exclusively on the Animal Welfare Program it was touted that inspections and enforcement would be more effective and consistent. I would later hear that this re-organization was simply a strategic ploy to obtain larger congressional appropriations. Under Veterinary Services funds appropriated for brucellosis eradication had been allegedly diverted to subsidize Animal Welfare activities. With an independent division designated exclusively for the Animal Welfare Program additional appropriations were needed to properly fund the program. To this day the bulk of the funds account for salaries and equipment.

 

The resulting reorganization formed Regulatory Enforcement and Animal Care (REAC). It consisted of two distinct divisions; one for the enforcement of all APHIS regulations, Regulatory Enforcement (RE); and one for inspections, Animal Care (AC), which was responsible solely for the Animal Welfare Program. These branches were supposed to work together; Animal Care performing inspections, Regulatory Enforcement developing cases against alleged violators of various APHIS programs including AC. Five geographic sectors were created, but the RE and AC boundaries did not mesh. For example, investigators stationed in Missouri reported to the North Central Sector while Animal Care inspectors reported to the South Central Sector. This arrangement made for confusion and inefficiency.

 

Following the creation of REAC, Dr. Edward Slauter left his post as Director of the Animal Health Division of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Why he left this position is telling: he was under pressure from the state’s Attorney General for his failure to enforce state animal health regulations. Slauter, an associate of Dr. Joan Arnoldi, the newly named Deputy Administrator for REAC, found a welcoming home at the newly created division.

 

REAC’s publicly stated mission to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and bring offenders into compliance is articulated by Dr. Glosser, APHIS Administrator at that time. As Glosser put it, REAC would “lead people into compliance,” through “a flexible, dynamic body of regulations.”

 

I was hopeful then that REAC would begin to address the serious inconsistencies in the inspection program and the agency’s chronic failure to seek legal remedy against offenders.

 

By 1990, my Midwest colleagues and I were working fewer cases than prior to REAC’s creation. Congress and the media however were not as willing to overlook transgressions right under the nose of USDA. A September 7, 1990 letter from Indiana Congressman, John Meyer, related to a complaint from one of his constituents who attended an exotic animal park and described it to Meyer as a concentration camp for animals. Forced out of its passive role into action, Animal Care under Dr. Mott investigated and reported three violations; I found 12 categories of violations, with numerous sub category violations. During the course of my investigation I also learned that the Missouri Department of Conservation had convicted the manager of this exotic animal park for hunting those exotic animals under his protective care. The thoroughly documented case was sent on to the USDA attorneys but never reached hearing and prosecution.

 

At the end of 1990, Dr. Walter A. Christensen, Animal Care Sector Supervisor, requested an investigation of a Stover, Missouri kennel operated by two sisters, Janice Knierim and Rhoda Burnett. The case is a classic example of USDA’s corruption of established procedures. The kennel in question had been previously licensed under Mr. And Mrs. Vinson Whittle, their parents, who USDA convinced to surrender their license and re-apply under their daughters’ names to clean their slate of severe violations; a new license was thus issued, giving this same kennel a fresh slate, on paper. Yet the same and worse violations persisted: sick dogs (“dehydration, open sores, skin infections”), lack of water and food; improper records; failure to account for the disposition of many of the dogs they sold.

 

My division, Regulatory Enforcement was, however, never called in to investigate. When the sisters refused Animal Care access to their kennel, Animal Care requested intervention by the local sheriff to gain entry, this in an effort to keep in-house Animal Care’s own negligence in issuing the license. The warrant secured by the Sheriff’s department was invalid due to an incorrect address. Later AC did gain access and the kennel passed inspection. But, as indicated by documents in my case file, a complainant who phoned in asked Dr. Slauter “How could they pass? Your inspector must be on the take.” Slauter responded, “I know the inspector, he’s an excellent inspector.” In 1996 the inspector, Robert Dunning, was nabbed in a FBI sting for soliciting a bribe from a kennel owner.

 

For me, 1992 was a turning point. The stolen pet issue had gotten so hot that local sheriff departments were asking USDA for help. One in Missouri told me pet theft was so widespread that it wanted USDA to set up a hotline to track cases; his request fell on deaf ears. Bunchers were in their heyday, picking up animals from newspaper ads, neighborhoods and I could not understand why USDA was denying there was a problem. I speculated at the time that the situation had gotten so out of hand that the catch up work alone would inundate Animal Care’s staff, in addition to reflect poorly on management. I later understood this as an attempt to keep the egregious, long unaddressed problems confined in-house. Animal Care had begun isolating itself from its sister division- it was covering its tracks by excluding Enforcement officers like myself from investigations.

 

To conceal their misdeeds Animal Care turned to local sheriff’s rather than its Enforcement arm, as in the Donald Wood cattery. The conditions there festered over time: sick animals, lack of food or water, improper identification of cats, failure to remove excrement from cages, lack of veterinary care to the extent an inspection report noted: “The gravity of this situation is compounded by the fact that the animals were apparently temporarily abandoned.” A warrant was issued with the assistance of the local sheriff and five cats were seized; the warrant, however, did not authorize the seizure. Regulatory Enforcement was subsequently called in to clean up the mess. In an apparent effort to destroy the evidence of the illegal confiscation, Dr. Christensen ordered the cats destroyed. The APHIS Administrator had to sign a confiscation order after the fact. Had Animal Care gone through the proper channels the confiscation would have been legal.

 

In the Bryant case, yet another case of improper authorizations by Animal Care involved instructions given to an inspector to falsify his reports. When I accompanied this inspector and entered the filthy kennel building, which housed the puppy mill, my eyes immediately started burning from the ammonia vapors; there was no ventilation. One-gallon cans, which formerly contained toxic paint, served as water buckets. When I returned to our vehicle, the Animal Care inspector wrote up his report, clearly omitting some of the most serious and obvious violations. He explained to me that his supervisor had told him “not to document too many violations.” I then phoned my own supervisor to discuss this situation. I followed up with a memo, which I faxed to his office as requested. I subsequently learned that the memo had been destroyed “to protect” me. I had not done anything wrong and I was angry that my superiors would not or could not address the issue of a falsified document or the alleged instructions to do so.

 

This was the last pet producing facility I was asked to visit. In fact, I was not given cases from Animal Care until year-end 1992 when I was dispatched to examine the records of two long time research suppliers, Bruce Barnfield and Randall Huffstetler. The Animal Care inspector responsible for inspecting Huffstetler’s kennel had formerly worked at one of the dealer’s clients, a university in Missouri. This same inspector had previously called Huffstetler for tips on getting hired by the agency. He returned the favor quid pro quo. On the occasion of my visit, he gave Huffstetler an inappropriate correction deadline. I reported my objections to this action to my supervisor. Huffstetler lodged his own complaint: he was incensed that he had been cited at all. Dr. Bruce Mammeli, Assistant Sector Supervisor, sent an apologetic letter to the dealer exempting him from responding to those citations. Suddenly the inspection had become simply a “fact finding mission.” As Mammeli wrote: “On fact finding inspections correction dates are not given, therefore they are not mandatory and will not be held against you during your next routine inspection.”

 

The following year I was asked to review 16 computer generated pages of selected excerpts relating to suppliers of random source animals whose records I had copied. I was not allowed, however, to use the records I had copied, only what headquarters had sent down to me. The resulting case, which I prepared with such selective evidence, was, not surprisingly, returned to me as insufficient for prosecution. The voluminous records I had copied which indicated scores of violations had disappeared. It was not until 1996 that, under pressure from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) and finally a threat of prosecution, Huffstetler voluntarily relinquished his license.

 

At that time, it was advantageous for the sake of public relations and political expediency to finally sacrifice this one dealer, whose kennel should never have been licensed.

 

In May 1992 the OIG issued its audit of APHIS. For me, the report was confirmation of what I had long been observing and reporting back to my supervisors: there was internally an ongoing pattern of mismanagement, lack of enforcement of the regulations, and a passive, reactive administering of the Animal Welfare Program. OlG concluded that “APHIS cannot ensure the humane care and treatment of animals at all dealer facilities as required by the Animal Welfare Act…did not inspect dealer facilities with a reliable frequency and it did not enforce timely corrections of violations found during inspections.” Of the 284 facilities reviewed, 46, or 16.2 percent, had received no annual inspection; 80.8 percent of the remaining facilities found to be in violation had received no follow-up; that APHIS does not have an effective inspection monitoring system… had not timely penalized facilities found to be in violation – in one case “continuous, uncorrected violations” were noted as far back as July 1988.

 

Notwithstanding this scathing federal report, USDA took no corrective action. Valuable time and resources were thus wasted and admonitions soon forgotten by USDA. Operationally, USDA continued to fall down on the job. In the next year, 1993, there were even fewer inspections fewer re-inspections, fewer cases investigated and reviewed, fewer cases submitted to Regulatory Enforcement; fewer compliance inspections; fewer cases submitted to OGC; fewer official warnings, and on and on. Licensed facilities in violation remained virtually unchanged. I began to understand that USDA had assumed the position that it was above the law.

 

Meanwhile, complaints had been flooding USDA in states hardest hit by pet theft, including Missouri and Iowa. Media were breaking stories of animals vanishing without at trace. USDA had been forced to respond. A mid West Stolen Dog Task Force had been hastily formed in 1990; I was not asked to participate. Nearly 150 pages of unreleased field investigator notes indicated that dog dealers under investigation had in a few months period obtained dogs from 148 illegal sources, from dealers who had been convicted in local court of stealing pets, and from long dead individuals or those who simply did not exist. Yet APHIS administrator Dr. James Glosser issued quite another finding to the public and press. USDA concluded, “There was a lack of substantive evidence that dealers were knowingly dealing in stolen pets.” Inspectors were told to offer licenses to the 148 illegal suppliers, also known as bunchers.

 

Providing improper statements to the government (18, U.S.C., 1001) could have sent USDA administrators themselves to jail for a maximum of five years, and a $10,000 fine, let alone imposed maximum sanctions against the dog dealers.

 

This dog task force would be the first of three, which provided fodder for the agency’s self-justified inaction and involved significant laundering of data and tampering with evidence. A January 1993 task force, from which again I was excluded, found rampant falsification of records among long prospering violators in Missouri and Arkansas, and evidence that dealers were obtaining dogs and cats from “Free to Good Home” ads and from other dealers who had been convicted of illegally acquiring animals. One dealer whose underground, football field size underground kennels service most of the large mid west research institutions, burned his records prior to an announced inspection visit and, according to one of its Senior Investigators, moved about 300 dogs overnight to undisclosed locations. Instead of aggressively pursing this dealer, the Task Force was instructed to drop his from further investigation.

 

Ultimately the entire task force project was canned, despite or perhaps because of, accumulated evidence of wrongdoing by USDA licensees. In November of the same year, another stolen dog task force was revived, this largely in response to the publication of STOLEN FOR PROFIT, a book about the theft of pets and USDA’s role in enabling those crimes. This Stolen Dog Traceback Project like its predecessors uncovered severe, widespread violations of the law at dog dealer kennels.

 

According to USDA regulation, 9 CFR, Section 2.132 (b), dealers must determine whether or not a particular animal was born and raised on his supplier’s premises. Yet USDA had constructed pre-written affidavits, which omitted this crucial question, thus exempting critical evidence from case files. I had sent on records containing obvious violations, which should have again justified punitive action, but when those records were returned to me they were purged of these observations and watered down to a handful of relatively minor violations. In one case, Animal Care referred to Enforcement only 17 minor offenses out of hundreds of major, well-documented violations.

 

National news magazine shows had picked up the story. I was interviewed in silhouette for “Eye to Eye with Connie Chung.” Although I was a key source I remained anonymous, out of fear of agency reprisals. Yet there were mounting suspicions that I had provided the author with damning internal documents and that it was in fact I on the news show. By the end of 1993 I had been removed from Animal Care cases involving dogs and cats. My work assignments were principally in the area of animal quarantine cases under the purview of Veterinary Services. I was totally out of the dealer and puppy mill investigation loop.

 

Throughout 1994 into 1995, USDA’s public exposure and vulnerability was increasing. The re-release in paperback of Stolen for Profit drew yet more public and media attention to stolen pets and USDA’s role. Despite specific federal code Title 7, Section 2159 “Authority to Apply for Injunction” if the agency believed that “any dealer is dealing in stolen animals or is placing the health of any animal in serious danger,” the only occasional cases which made their way to the OGC were invariably granted safe haven. In its by then 28 years monitoring dealers – some of whom had been found guilty by local courts of stealing pets, dealers who had been housing animals in everything from front load dryers to mailboxes to chicken coops, dealers who were selling infected and dying animals to research institutions, the USDA Attorney General had only once taken injunctive action. At this point, only the high profile cases, which had attracted media attention were being, resolved other than by warnings. Under threat of punitive action, relatively small dealers voluntarily relinquished their licenses, among them Randall Huffstetler. This was good PR for USDA, which could claim to shut these dealers down.

 

USDA’s “discretionary powers” were, however, enabling the agency to re- write its federally mandated job description, favoring industry (dog dealers and their research, puppy mills and their pet store clients) over the public. The agency was making obtaining and retaining those licenses by violators easier. It was simply governing “by consensus,” and actively removing dealers from legal obligation to comply with regulations. One USDA memo specifically states that corrective measures for non-compliant items cited during routine inspections should be a “…consensus between the inspector and the licensee or registrant.”

 

It is particularly noteworthy that USDA continued its laissez faire policies despite a 1995 internal report by the Office of Inspector General identifying the agency’s negligence and non-enforcement. USDA seemed to have also lost control over not only dealer kennels but its own employees. During a 1994 annual meeting in Oklahoma word got out that a USDA employee within Animal Care had reportedly embezzled over $80,OOO from USDA, primarily in dog dealer license fees and subsequently sabotaged the computer systems so that it became impossible to determine the full extent of this damage.

 

Shortly after the 0IG report was released, REAC’s own internal assessment was provided to headquarters; this report was not made public. In fact, administrators flatly told press inquirers that no such report existed. In the summer of 1994 Morley Cook, had conducted a review of the South Central Sector REAC program whose office was in Fort Worth, Texas. Cook found significant failings within that area’s program: the data base system impeded efficiency and management control; public complaints were not being recognized; inspectors were not adequately trained and lacked sufficient information for their job performance; REAC policy was not uniform, etc. What the report did not mention was that the Sector Supervisor, Dr. Walter Christensen had been taking matters into his own hands.

 

Since 1992, Dr. Christensen had been arbitrarily clearing Enforcement files of violators. Animal Care supervisors had access to the Compliance Investigations Tracking System (CITS) which tracks cases from initiation date to final resolution. This was initially an investigative tool designed to track the time spent gathering evidence and completion of an investigative report subsequent to formal prosecution. Dr. Christensen lobbied for and was eventually granted access to the CITS System so AC could track cases handled by the AC Sector offices. However, Dr. Christensen was closing out cases, oftentimes the same day of their entry. He was accomplishing this by arbitrarily issuing warning tickets. In many cases the violation would have justified a far more punitive action, for example dealer license suspension and even confiscation of animals whose health and safety was in danger. It was my understanding the Enforcement’s investigations were a management tool for Animal Care, a back-up for any violations Animal Care had failed to observe. This, apparently, is just what Animal Care did not want: any further indication of its negligence. To bolster its slack enforcement image, the south central sector was padding its enforcement entries.

 

In spite of or perhaps because of my frustration with USDA authorities I applied for a promotion and was interviewed by RE Sector Supervisor Neil Williamson concerning an Enforcement Specialist position, a promotion that would have entailed my moving to Denver. I even received a confirming letter. However, I received a call from Williamson stating that he had been instructed by Ron Stanley, Deputy Administrator for Regulatory Enforcement, to advise me that the job in Denver had been “put on the shelf.” I immediately faxed a memo to Williamson, requesting clarification.

 

A month later, on May 15, 1995 I was told by Dianne Shank, Regulatory Enforcement Supervisor for the South Central region, that my position in Jefferson City had suddenly been “abolished.” I was also told that I had to choose one of seven cities as my new duty station. There was no mention of my promotion to the Denver office. The agency was asking for an immediate reply indicating my compliance with its sudden new directive.

 

To address this clear evidence of retaliation, I contacted an attorney. He advised me not to comply until I received a written request and had an opportunity to review the agency’s offer. On May 22 I advised the agency that I had hired an attorney. That same day Ron Stanley left me a voice mail stating that I would not have to relocate after all. I do not believe the agency was prepared for me to take such aggressive action.

 

By now I was receiving only insignificant investigations which had no merit. But my complaint concerning the rescinding of my promotion had drawn the attention of OlG. In late November 1995, I was interviewed by an investigator. He told me that Office of Inspector General was looking into allegations of corruption within REAC. At this time, I was sent a case from Animal Care. On fact value it seemed open and shut: minor violations involving the unlicensed sale of some dogs to research. Animal Care did not expect me to further investigate using the records they supplied. I learned that this buncher had been selling dogs to one of the major Arkansas based dealers during a period of ten years, using his relative’s names. Again I had, by simply doing my job, placed Animal Care in a bad light. In 1997, that Arkansas dealer who received this buncher’s dogs would only be fined $5000 for his own longtime, serious violations.

 

Following OIG’s inquiry I contacted the Government Accountability Project (GAP) in Washington DC. GAP was ostensibly established to address government whistleblower complaints. It was clear by now that I was the subject of retaliation by the agency. GAP was not aggressive in filing a complaint on my behalf, however. GAP suggested I accept USDA’s offer that would allow me to remain in the Midwest in my current investigative position. The USDA had created a position that was unacceptable in that I was to educate the industry and public regarding Animal Care’s mission. I simply wanted to do the job I was assigned to do, document alleged violations of APHIS regulations. I could not accept an untenable compromise that would further isolate me.

 

The on-paper supervisory position would have made me the target continued hostility. Already my once amicable, productive relationship with my longtime office mate in Jefferson City had been eroded. The officer told me, “I’m tired of your whistleblowing shit” and expressed a desire to “beat the shit out of me.” He made these statements in the presence of three superiors including Ron Stanley, *none of whom defended me.

 

Meanwhile Animal Care was consolidating its power. Through a voice mail announcement -no paper trail, we were informed that Regulatory Enforcement would be severed from Animal Care and transferred to the Office of Management and Budget. By assigning enforcement to an office which makes regulations, rather than enforcing them, the former REAC, thus divested of it RE, would take even fewer steps to deal with alleged violators.

 

In February 1997, I resigned from USDA, a disheartening end to nearly 20 years of services. I forfeited my retirement as well as a lifetime career. The untenable atmosphere had taken a toll. Fortunately, I found a niche with IDA through friendships I had nurtured during my tumultuous last few years with USDA. I quickly embarked on a war against puppy mill leading national, regional, and local television crews to deplorable facilities. On one of my escapades the news crew and I were shot at by the kennel operator and the news vehicle hit with pellets from the shotgun. The shooting incident was caught on tape yet two years later a jury acquitted the shooter.

 

The suffering and misery that I have seen and continue to see motivate me to fight for the animals who have no voice, no representation, and virtually no standing with our laws. I am determined to expose the evil puppy mill industry, which is supported by the retail pet industry. Each day our efforts improve thanks to those who have seen a mill or vicariously experienced the agony victims of this industry endure each day. Many will suffer and others die at the whim of people motivated by greed instead of love for animals that they profess to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statement of Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown, USDA Whistleblower

Former United States Department of Agriculture Animal Care Inspector for Oregon, Whistleblower

 

 

While working for the United States Department of Agriculture as the inspector in Oregon for the Federal Animal Welfare Act, I was dedicated to providing the animals the protections, minimal as they are, that are stipulated by law. This is no easy task. As Oregon’s only inspector, I was responsible for the oversight of over 120 facilities throughout the state. I barely had time to visit each facility as required, which for some facilities was no more than once every three years. If that wasn’t enough, I soon found out that my own supervisors were working against me at every turn.

The research institutions I visited, including the Oregon Primate Center, were not happy to see me coming once they realized that I was going to hold them to the law. This reaction I expected. What was surprising to me was my own supervisors were disappointed and unsupportive of my efforts to simply enforce the bare minimum standards in the Code of Federal Regulations. The USDA has a good ol’ boy relationship with the research industry and the laws are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. More than once, I was instructed by a supervisor to make a personal list of violations of the law, cut that list in half, and then cut that list in half again before writing up my inspection reports. My willingness to uphold the law during my site visits at the Primate Center led to me being “retrained” several times by higher-ups in the USDA.

Understand that the laws I was attempting to enforce require no more than minimum standards— food and water, shelter from the elements, a clean cage that protects from injury and “adequate” veterinary care— that’s about it. At the Primate Center, the attending veterinarian tried to march me through as fast as he could. Only when I specifically asked to see a husbandry task, like cage washing, would he grudgingly show me. I would spot check records on paper but for the most part, I had to take the attending veterinarian on his word about procedures and veterinary care.

Because monkeys are intelligent, curious, active and social, so very similar to people, in 1985 the Animal Welfare Act was amended, adding language that focuses on their psychological well-being. The Federal Animal Welfare Act, by regulation emphasizes monkeys’ social needs and states in a special policy that these needs must be met, preferably by monkeys being housed together. Unfortunately, these provisions were set up without any real teeth. All the facility has to do is have a written plan on file that says how they intend to provide for psychological well-being. Dr. Kelley, the attending veterinarian, bragged about their psychological well-being plan for the hundreds of monkeys housed indoors. The plan states that the Primate Center will pair monkeys “to the extent possible.” When I toured the facility, what I actually saw was that the monkeys were almost all singularly caged and resultantly displaying neurotic behaviors. The well-being plan also stated that foraging devices intended to distract monkeys from self-abusive behavior were to be routinely, regularly provided, especially to the singularly housed animals. Instead, the staff admitted that they often didn’t have the time to attend to the time-consumptive task of filling the devices with food. It was clear that ORPRC had a psychological well-being plan that wasn’t working but I was powerless to fix the problems. All I could do was make suggestions that monkeys be housed in pairs or groups. Nothing changed in the two years I was the inspector.

One day in February of 1999 I received a phone call from an animal technician working at the Primate Center who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job. I later found out it was Mr. Rossell. He reported an outbreak of listeria in the outdoor corrals. He said that monkeys were sick because of the winter rains and lots of babies were dying. I went out to the Primate Center to take a look for myself. I cited in my report, “…Corrals 5,3,6,4 and 1 were excessively wet and muddy…Most adult monkeys appeared to have wet muddy tails buttocks and feet…about 40 percent of the monkeys in Corral 5 and 3 have alopecia (hair loss).”

The Center was experiencing an outbreak of listeria and 10 of 82 females in Corral 5 had stillbirths as a result. I counted the numbers sick with listeria, shigella, campylobacter, diarrhea and dehydration and confirmed the complaint’s validity on all counts. I dug up the sick and death tolls of previous winters and discovered that for the monkeys housed outdoors, many more monkeys get sick and die during winter months than in summer. I summed it up in my report to say the statistics “…cause question if the monkeys are truly acclimatized to the weather conditions here in Oregon.” The Attending Veterinarian, Dr. Kelley, disagreed. He said the monkeys were acclimated. The law has a loophole. The attending vet has the final say about whether animals are acclimated, just as he does with psychologically adjustment and distress. I filed my report which confirmed the complaint, but the USDA took no action.

The USDA has little motivation to enforce the already weak laws of the Animal Welfare Act. I was unable to do my job and eventually, out of frustration, I had to quit. I recognize the system is not set up to protect the animals but instead the financial interests of the research labs.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Anyone Enforcing the Law?

Downloadable PDF Version


The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the primary piece of legislation that protects animals bred and sold by dealers, exhibited by zoos and other attractions or experimented on in laboratories.  The United States Department of Agriculture/Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service/Animal Care (USDA/APHIS/AC) is the federal agency charged with enforcing this law.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the USDA has audited USDA/APHIS/AC 3 times regarding enforcement of the AWA.  Each of these audits had found major problems with the enforcement of the AWA.

Coincidentally, three past/present USDA inspectors, each dealing with one of these same areas, have turned whistleblower since the OIG audits took place.  They have been uniformly critical of USDA/APHIS/AC, showing that little had changed within the agency after the OIG audits.

Enforcement Inside Laboratories

 

In 1995 USDA/APHIS was audited by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the USDA.  The investigation dealt with enforcement of the AWA in laboratories.  The results were not favorable:

“APHIS does not have the authority, under current legislation, to effectively enforce the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act.  For Instance, the agency cannot terminate or refuse to renew licenses or registrations in cases where serious or repeat violations occur (such as the use of animals in unnecessary experiments, or failure to treat diseases or wounds).  In addition, APHIS cannot assess monetary penalties for violations unless the violator agrees to pay them, and penalties are often so low that violators merely regard them as part of the cost of doing business.”

Essentially, the OIG said that USDA/APHIS lacked sufficient authority to effectively enforce the AWA within laboratories, and that the USDA/APHIS didn’t effectively utilize the limited authority that it did have.  Have things changed within the USDA since 1995?  Apparently not.  In fact, it appears that the USDA/APHIS hierarchy may have become openly hostile to effective enforcement of the AWA.

In 2000 Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown, a former USDA inspector issued the following statement at a news conference in Portland Oregon:

“The research institutions I visited, including the Oregon Primate Center, were not happy to see me coming once they realized that I was going to hold them to the law. This reaction I expected. What was surprising to me was my own supervisors were disappointed and unsupportive of my efforts to simply enforce the bare minimum standards in the Code of Federal Regulations. The USDA has a good ol’ boy relationship with the research industry and the laws are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. More than once, I was instructed by a supervisor to make a personal list of violations of the law, cut that list in half, and then cut that list in half again before writing up my inspection reports. My willingness to uphold the law during my site visits at the Primate Center led to me being “retrained” several times by higher-ups in the USDA.”

 

Enforcement Inside Animal Dealers

 

In 1992 USDA/APHIS was audited by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the USDA with respect to enforcement of the AWA regarding animal dealers.  The report was summarized:

“Our audit concluded that APHIS cannot ensure the humane care and treatment of animals at all dealer facilities as required by the act.  APHIS did not inspect dealer facilities with a reliable frequency, and it did not enforce timely correction of violations during inspections.”

Essentially, with regard to dealers, USDA/APHIS was not enforcing the law.  This situation is echoed by the words of Marshal Smith a former USDA inspector:

“My territory included 40 kennels in northwest Arkansas. I approached my new job conscientiously. Records of these pet producers were transferred to me from a retiring inspector who told me, “If you’re smart you’ll do what I did, you’ll check everything is OK.” I told him that I intended to abide by the law. Another assumption: I assumed he was a lazy good old boy, that he was not voicing the agency’s mindset. The kennels I visited had seemingly never been inspected. I was overwhelmed by what I saw: the wretched looking animals, the mounds of fecal matter reaching in some cases to my knees, at very least to the wire caging of the rabbit hutches which most puppy millers used to house the dogs. In every instance that I recall, the filth and deprivation were shocking.”

Enforcement Inside Animal Exhibitors

In 1996 the OIG audited the USDA with respect to animal exhibitors.  The findings were no more encouraging:

“Although APHIS Class “C” exhibitor licenses were intended solely for those who wish to exhibit animals to the public, USDA-OIG visits to 28 APHIS-licensed exhibitors in 3 states disclosed that 18 (64 percent) did not actually exhibit their animals, but instead maintained them as pets.  Using the regulations broad definition of an exhibitor, individuals obtained exhibitor licenses in order to circumvent State or local laws intended to protect the public by restricting private ownership of wild or exotic animals such as bears or tigers.”

In this instance APHIS regulations and enforcement practices of the AWA actually allowed individuals to circumvent local laws and potentially endanger the public.

Similar information has come to light in the statement of current USDA Animal Care Specialist Richard Botelho.  A five-year veteran of almost 1000 inspections inside Florida, Botelho has made some familiar-sounding statements about the USDA

“Failing to enforce the minimum standards and regulations of the AWA has harmful risks to the animals and to the public. Potentially dangerous animal are being allowed to be exhibited to the public without direct control of a handler(s), sufficient distance or barrier between the animals and the public.”

What you can do to help:

1. Read, copy, and distribute this fact sheet.

2. Contact the Chairs of the House & Senate Agriculture Committees to demand that they immediately convene investigative hearings to examine how USDA/APHIS enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

Bob Goodlatte
2240 Rayburn House Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20515
202-225-5431
202-225-9681 (fax)

Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
416 Russell Senate Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20510
202-224-3521
202-224-0103 (fax)

3. Contact the Office of the Inspector General to demand that the current OIG audit of USDA APHIS deal with the agency’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

United States Department of Agriculture
Office of the Inspector General
Room 41-W Jamie Whitten Bldg
1400 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20250
202-720-5677

4. Contact the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture to demand both stricter enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and an internal investigation of the allegations made by the present and former USDA staff quoted in this fact sheet.

Mike Johanns
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave SW Room 200A
Washington, DC 20250

5. Send a tax-deductible donation to Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) to support this campaign.

 

 

Whistleblower Testifies Against USDA

 

Dr. Dean Wyatt says the USDA retaliated against him for trying to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act

 

“Food integrity and humane handling whistleblowers should not have to rely on an undercover video investigation in order for USDA supervisors to take their disclosures seriously.”—Dr. Wyatt  by Gail Berrigan

 

In testimony before a House subcommittee hearing on March 4, Dr. Dean Wyatt, public health veterinarian for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA, expressed frustration about the USDA’s lack of support for inspectors who are “just trying to do their job” to protect animal welfare and food safety.

In his testimony, Dr. Wyatt said USDA officials not only overturned his recommendations, siding with slaughter plants in violation of federal law, but also personally retaliated against him for trying to enforce the law. Dr. Wyatt, who has been with the USDA for 18 years, was reprimanded and threatened with termination by his supervisors after reporting repeated violations of the USDA’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA).

Read more at http://www.humanesociety.org/news/news/2010/whistleblower_reports_USDA_failures.html

 

 

More on USDA Whistle Blowers below

http://reporter.911animalabuse.com/service/searchEverything.kickAction?keywords=whistleblower&includeVideo=on&includeAudio=on&includePhoto=on&includeBlog=on&includeUser=on&includeGroups=on&includeMessages=on&includeSets=on&as=23072&sortType=relevance

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