by Merritt Clifton
WASHINGTON D.C. ––At deadline the Humane Society of the U.S. had neither confirmed nor denied a report from an HSUS source that the board of directors, responding to a petition signed by 41 staffers, agreed over the Columbus Day weekend, October 7-9, to prosecute David Wills, 48, for allegedly embezzling at least $16,000 from an expense account purportedly used to pay informants in cruelty cases and to negotiate the termination of both HSUS president Paul Irwin and Humane Society International president John Hoyt.
According to the unconfirmed report, Hoyt, the top HSUS/HSI officer since 1970, is to retire soon with a golden parachute severance. Irwin, hired in 1975, is to depart after the appointment of a successor. Three members of the HSUS staff would seem to be candidates: Dennis White, former head of the American Humane Association’s Animal Protection Division, who recently left AHA after 19 years; John Kullberg, head of the American SPCA for 14 years, 1977-1991; and David Ganz, head of the North Shore Animal League for six-plus years, 1986-1993.
The HSUS board is also supposed to have begun looking into various financial arrangements involving Irwin, Hoyt, and HSUS/HSI, which provided them benefits beyond their official compensation (salary plus pension contributions) of $195,288 for Irwin and $210,611 for Hoyt, as of fiscal year 1993.
Sources at all levels of HSUS/HSI said they still hadn’t been officially informed of any board or executive decisions and none acknowledged either signing or knowing about a petition.
Yet another report, held that Hoyt and Irwin were not terminated, but were instead voted big raises, as happened in the wake of 1988 and 1991 Jack Anderson exposes about their compensation. The source didn’t have information pertaining to Wills.
A top source at HSUS explicitly stated that Wills was fired on August 11, but Wills officially remains on administrative leave.
All that we knows for sure is that in the two weeks before the Columbus Day weekend board meeting in Seattle, labor relations attorney Joel Bennett of Washington D.C. and colleague Laurie Phillips interviewed a number of people on behalf of the HSUS board, including some sources, about alleged sexual harassment and embezzling by Wills. Questions were asked not only about Wills’ tenure with HSUS, but also about similar allegations that arose during his time as executive director of the New Hampshire Humane Society, 1972-1978; the Michigan Humane Society, 1979-1989; and the defunct National Society for Animal Protection, 1989-1991. Certain sources denied events described to confidants on repeated occasions over the past seven or eight years, and reliably witnessed in some cases, because of concerns for personal security.
Two days before one of the two dates was given for the board meeting, an anonymous caller ordered copies of our October edition for all board members. The October “Watchdog” column detailed Wills history of questionable associations; his proximity to missing money at other humane societies; and his role as Hoyt’s longtime protege and rumored eventual successor. The caller asked that the copies be rushed by courier to board member Anita Coupe’s hotel in Seattle but was apparently not Coupe herself. An invoice for the courier charge was promptly paid with a U.S. postal money order made out on behalf of B. True.
The Booby Hatch
The case was meanwhile described in lesser detail by U.S. News & World Report, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, CHAIN Newsletter (a California-based magazine for humane officers), an Associated Press article syndicated on October 1, most major Alaskan media, and other publications ranging from daily newspapers to dogsledding periodicals. Many accounts reached Washington D.C. in time to have been seen by members of the audience at an October 2 address Hoyt delivered to a World Bank gathering. Hoyt’s address was titled, reminiscent of his former career as a Baptist and Presbyterian minister, “Ethics and Spiritual Values and the Promotion of Environmentally Sustainable Development.”
Throughout late September and early October, I received calls from new sources offering stories of Wills allegedly using donated funds to entertain himself (and Hoyt in some versions) at a Michigan bar called The Booby Hatch; to buy Franklin Mint gold and silver ornaments; and to engage in other pursuits unrelated to helping animals.
Longtime Wills foe Barbara Schwartz, a New Hampshire horse and collie fancier/breeder, added spice with an account of attending Central High School in Detroit in the mid-1950s with Audrey Rose, the former MHS board president who hired Wills and later resigned after finding out he had faked his resume; her husband Irving Rose; Sonny Bloch, an HSUS board member from January 1991 until early 1995, who is now in federal prison awaiting trial for allegedly helping to defraud 280 investors out of $21 million, and is reportedly also under investigation for statutory rape; and Ivan Boesky, another financeer with a checkered past. Bloch and Boesky, Schwartz said, got their start in finance by running poker games. She suggested that Wills might have met Bloch in Detroit and introduced him to Irwin and Hoyt, who have reputedly done much decision-making over the years at a weekly poker game with other HSUS executives.
“But Wills did do some good things for animals,” several callers insisted, citing his abolition of decompression chamber euthanasia at both NHS and MHS.
Current MHS executive director Gary Tiscornia didn t hedge his few but quite specific words. “Whether or not Wills liked Corvettes,” as reported in October, Tiscornia said, ” he left here driving a 944 Porsche,” a much more costly vehicle.
Tiscornia joined MHS in August 1983, under Wills, but quit in protest of Wills’ management in February 1989. A straight shooter who remembers with admiration that his father stood up to an attempted organized crime shakedown, Tiscornia was brought back on June 19, 1989, at the same board meeting that accepted Wills resignation after funds were discovered to be missing from the MHS accounts. Former bookkeeper Denise Hopkins was convicted of embezzling $65,000; up to $1.6 million was never accounted for. Insurance covered $50,000 of the loss, Tiscornia said, and Hopkins is supposed to make some restitution, but though now out of prison and gainfully employed, he added, she has not made any payments.
Tiscornia also confirmed that shortly after Wills departure, the Teamsters Union made an unsuccessful attempt to organize at MHS. Two of Wills’ alleged associates were involved in the Teamsters: John Burge, nephew of Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa and former business agent for Teamsters Local 124, who was convicted in 1991 of taking kickbacks from trucking companies at Detroit’s Metro Airport in exchange for insuring labor peace; and Rolland McMaster, Hoffa’s longtime aide, who was convicted of a similar charge nearly 30 years earlier. Burge was also president of Atlantic Western Personnel Leasing Corporation, in which McMaster and another reputed Wills associate, Dean Turner, were executives. Wills intimated to then-NSAP volunteer Sandra LeBost, when Atlantic Western went bankrupt in March 1990, that he had lost an investment in the company of $40,000. LeBost on June 30 of this year won a mediation judgement of $42,000 in settlement of unrepaid loans to Wills, but has not yet received the money.
Turner’s mother, TV personality Marilyn Turner, was questioned about the Atlantic Western case by a Michigan grand jury. She and her husband John Kelly served on the board of MHS, resigning when Wills did and joining him on the board of NSAP. Kelly also served on the board of HSUS when Wills folded NSAP to join HSUS.
Another of Wills’ longtime associates, DeDay LaRene, was attorney for reputed Detroit crime boss Vito Giacalone and his son Billy-Jack Giacalone during a 1975 grand jury probe of Jimmy Hoffa’s still unsolved disappearance. LaRene and Giacalone plea-bargained sentences for concealing income from the IRS in December 1993. They were first charged with conspiracy and tax evasion, but key witness Albert Allen vanished on the eve of the trial and U.S. Justice Department lawyer Theodore Forman was convicted of leaking grand jury documents including witness lists to LaRene. Now disbarred, LaRene and his wife Joan Witt a Wills employee at NHHS, MHS, and NSAP both currently work for HSUS.
LaRene’s main job in recent months seems to have been negotiating a deal to take over the Washington D.C. animal control contract, relinquished by the Washington Humane Society at least in part because the city was slow to pay for contracted services. HSUS pulled out, however, on September 18.
“There was no one specific thing that did not allow this marriage to occur,” HSUS spokesperson Wayne Pacelle told The Washington Post, but the Post said HSUS informed the city that it would not go ahead to build a proposed “$10 million state-of-the-art shelter,” because HSUS “could not own absolutely” the building site, leased by the city from the federal government.
Other sources indicated that HSUS seized on a handy excuse to get out of having promised more than it could deliver. HSUS policy since it was founded in 1954 has been to avoid doing hands-on animal care.
As the edition went to press, the city-owned shelter run by WHS since 1980 was being prepared for shutdown, and Washington D.C. appeared likely to be without animal control at the stroke of midnight on Halloween. Volunteers were reportedly patching together a service similar to the one Legislation In Support of Animals provided when New Orleans left animal control unfunded from January through June 1990.
Whether or not anyone who was purportedly harassed and/or compromised by Wills actually had reason to fear that testimony to Bennett and Phillips might be leaked, someone did anonymously sandbag Michigan Anti-Cruelty Society chief investigator Michael Killian during the week before the HSUS board meeting.
Faxed to was a flyer headlined “Kill ‘Er’ ian.” The flyer described how on November 24, 1982, then-Lincoln Park police officer Killian joined in pursuit of Benjamin Davis, 36, a father of three, who had run a red light. Killian shot Davis twice in the back and buttocks, then handcuffed him as he died. Police policy called for firing Killian when in 1985 he was convicted of manslaughter, but instead he was discharged with a disability pension of $17,584 a year.
“Michael Killian’s cost for this human life,” the handbill stated, “was $825 in court costs, five years on probation, and psychiatric therapy. He was released from probation on January 15, 1992.”
The Davis family was in 1986 awarded $1.6 million and another $1.6 million in 1989 when Mission National Insurance Company of California, which held the Lincoln Park policy, paid $500,000 on time but was four days late paying the balance. Mission National then went bankrupt. Lincoln Park taxpayers were assessed $80 apiece over a two-year period to cover the penalty.
Wills hired Killian as a cruelty investigator in July 1988. “I can verify that he was employed by MHS through April 1991,” said Tiscornia. “In accordance with a former employee’s right to privacy, I am not able to share any further information.”
MACS board president Linda Tuttle said that Killian joined MACS in April 1991. “We didn’t know about the shooting,” she said. “We got an anonymous call about it three or four months later. He told us he’d taken early retirement from the Lincoln Park police department to spend more time with his horses.” Tuttle said Killian s job performance has been ” pretty good,” despite some friction with the board and senior staff, and that the flyer would be discussed at a November 8 board meeting.
Tuttle suggested that the handbill might have been connected with the October 1994 seizure of 169 allegedly neglected dogs and 25 cats from breeders Richard and Nancy Yuhasz of Deerfield Township. “This is absolutely the worst case of cruelty I ve ever seen,” Killian told media soon after the raid.
But another possibility was that Killian might have been misidentified as a source for information about Wills and Wills’ Detroit associates, targeted for discrediting, and made an example of. If the flyer was faxed in response to the Yuhasz case, there was no reason it should have been recieved. Nor was there a clear reason why it went to some of the other recipients.
“If Mike goes down as result of this and it hurts MACS,” said Tuttle, “the only ones who are going to suffer are the animals.” MACS, which has no paid administration, serves the Detroit inner city. An architect is currently donating services toward renovation of the shelter, including expansion of the cat care facilities. Tuttle said her husband, an attorney and general contractor, would donate much of the labor.
“We could move to a more economically promising area,” Tuttle said, “but here in Detroit is where we’re needed.”