by Merritt Clifton
(From Animal People, September 1995)
The puppy mill flap was just one headache for HSUS president Paul Irwin and Humane Society International president John Hoyt, whose organization is the umbrella for HSUS and several affiliated organizations. On August 9, they were obliged to put HSUS vice president David Wills on administrative leave. On August 11, after rumors about the circumstances raced through the animal protection community, Wills was fired.
Just weeks earlier, in June, Hoyt and Irwin, both former clergymen, presided over a lavish Mexican wedding for Wills and Laurie White, former wife of PETA president Alex Pacheco, now a volunteer for the Washington Humane Society.
Wills’ departure came as HSUS/HSI board members questioned the use of HSUS/HSI funds to pay wedding-related costs and cover Wills personal debts. Insiders told Animal People that Wills had drawn significant loans against his $70,000-plus salary, had taken a female subordinate abroad without prior authorization, had submitted expense accounts including business lunches and other meetings that never took place, and had transferred a female staffer to HSUS director of legislative affairs Wayne Pacelle’s office in an purported attempt to keep people with knowledge of his personal affairs from comparing notes. Details of some of the alleged transactions were recorded by current and former employees, who also alleged sexual harassment by Wills at various times over a three-year period. Several serious charges were detailed in a 21-page affidavit, while further charges, by other plaintiffs, may be included in affidavits yet to be filed.
On August 9, an e-mail message to HSUS staff announced that Wills’ duties as director of companion animals and investigations would be temporarily handled by John Kullberg, president of the American SPCA 1979-1991, and head of the HSUS Wildlife Land Trust since October 1994.
Earlier in the summer, Wills accepted the June 30 recommendation of circuit court mediation judge Steven N. Andrews of Oakland County, Michigan, that he should pay $42,500 restitution and damages to Sandra LeBost, of Royal Oak, Michigan, who allegedly loaned Wills $28,311 and her father’s gold watch, with a claimed worth of $10,000, and was not repaid, when Wills left his former post as executive director of the Michigan Humane Society to form the National Society for Animal Protection in mid-1989. Wills headed NSAP, now dormant, for two years before taking his HSUS job.
A mediation judge is believed to have recommended that Wills pay $21,000 to William and Judith McBride, of Ortonville, Michigan, who allegedly loaned Wills $20,000 in May and June, 1991, and were also not repaid. That case, however, will apparently go to court. Meanwhile, a pre-settlement probe of Wills ability to pay the recommended sums reported that according to the Washington D.C. registrar of deeds, the street address Wills furnished to the court apparently does not exist.
Wills’ fall from grace after several years as Hoyt s heir-apparent left in doubt the positions of Pacelle and lobbyists Aaron Medlock and Bill Long, whom Wills recruited from the Fund for Animals in April 1994. Also in question was the further association with HSUS of DeDay LaRene, a longtime Wills pal who joined HSUS to do community service after spending a year in federal prison for helping Joey Giacalone conceal $410,000 from the IRS. LaRene had represented Giacalone since a 1975 grand jury probe of the disappearance of former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, and in 1988 represented Robert H. Miles, Michigan grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet another HSUS staffer believed likely to be packing was Joan Witt, LaRene’s wife, who followed Wills from a humane society post in Nashua, New Hampshire, first to MHS and then to HSUS.
Animal People was told by senior persons within HSUS that negotiations over a possible HSUS takeover of the Washington D.C. animal control contract, begun by Wills, will continue. The Washington Humane Society contract expired in May. The major obstacle to the deal is purportedly the intention of WHS to keep responsibility for anti-cruelty enforcement, granted to it by Congress, which administrates Washington D.C.
At deadline Animal People was still investigating whether either HSUS or HSUS senior officers took investment advice from financial radio talk show host I.H. “Sonny” Bloch, and if so, what the result was. Bloch, 58, was associated with HSUS for at least a decade, first as host of a TV program about pets and later, from 1991 until spring 1995, as a member of the HSUS board of directors. Bloch is now in federal prison in Manhattan, awaiting multiple trials, beginning with a federal court suit filed in Newark, New Jersey in December 1994 by 280 investors from 33 states, alleging Bloch fraudulently induced them to invest $9.38 million in a worthless wireless cable system.
A longtime resident of Tampa, Florida, Bloch fled to the Dominican Republic in March 1995, purportedly to avoid persecution by federal agents who were probing accusations of financial misdealings and statutory rape. Bloch declared his innocence.
Statutory rape charges have apparently not been filed to date. However, on May 26, as Bloch was still broadcasting daily from Santo Domingo, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged him and four others with bilking investors of $3.8 million by selling $21 million worth of memberships in firms set up to buy three radio stations. Later that day, Dominican authorities arrested Bloch at request of the FBI and returned him to the U.S.
Then, on July 7, federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Bloch on eight counts of tax fraud, perjury, and obstruction of justice, regarding his financial dealings from 1991 through 1993 with Broadcast Management Corporation, the producer of his financial talk show, which aired on 170 stations from 1980 until earlier this year.
Dennis White, recently dismissed after 19 years as head of the American Humane Association s animal protection division, has been hired to represent HSUS in Dallas, Texas. HSUS field reps are reportedly now being asked to work from their homes, without secretarial service. Several regional posts are vacant, and the HSUS service regions are apparently being realigned to cut the number of regional reps.