International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros is sued for unpaid rent
EAGLE BUTTE, South Dakota––Attorney, author, and marine biologist John Christopher Fine, of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on August 29, 2018 sued the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros and society president Karen Sussman, “seeking nearly $135,000 in delinquent rent,” reported Seth Tupper of the Rapid City Journal.
Fine, a longtime International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros supporter, bought the former ISPMB headquarters, a ranch located alongside U.S. Highway 212, between Lantry and Dewey, South Dakota, “from Sussman for $300,000 in 2013 and leased it back to her and the society, so the sale proceeds could be applied toward the society’s debt,” Tupper said.
$1.29 million in the hole
The 2016 International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros filing of IRS Form 990, the most recent available, shows that the organization finished the year with liabilities of $1.29 million, including $726,399 in accounts payable. This was despite having raised $813,030, more than the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros had raised in any previous year since 2002.
“Fine’s lawsuit initially sought to expel Sussman from the ranch, to recover a nearly $13,000 insurance check for storm damage to a ranch building, and to collect $134,468.12 in allegedly delinquent rent,” Tupper continued. “Sussman vacated the ranch after the lawsuit was filed, Fine said, and court documents show he has since amended his lawsuit to include only the demand for delinquent rent.”
Ranch sold, Sussman & 20 horses gone
Fine subsequently sold the ranch, Tupper added, “which includes a double-wide mobile home and numerous outbuildings on a total of approximately 660 acres straddling the Dewey and Ziebach county line. Public deeds on file in the two county courthouses indicate that the ranch was sold in August 2018 to a Dupree (South Dakota) couple for about $595,000. It had been listed by a realtor for $775,000,” Tupper said.
Tupper noted that “Sussman did not return messages from the Rapid City Journal,” leaving her whereabouts and the location of about 20 horses she took with her unconfirmed.
Facebook postings, however, from activists who have monitored the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros saga suggest that Sussman relocated at least temporarily to a site near Eagle Butte, just 10 miles east on Highway 212.
Poorest town in U.S.
Sussman, 71, has some ties to the community, but the community has little capacity for absorbing an insolvent and unrooted nonprofit organization with 20 horses to feed.
Eagle Butte, population 2,500, is the economic hub of Ziebach County, such as it is, and houses the tribal headquarters of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
A Cheyenne River Indian Reservation inholder at her previous location, Sussman formerly worked at the Eagle Butte Hospital.
The hospital was closed and replaced by a larger facility, the Cheyenne River Health Center, in January 2012, about a year after the U.S. Bureau of the Census identified Ziebach county as the poorest in the U.S., with 60% of the residents living below the federal poverty line and winter unemployment reaching 90%.
810 horses impounded in 2016
The sheriffs of Dewey and Ziebach counties in October 2016 impounded 810 mostly malnourished horses from Sussman and International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros, responding to an affidavit filed in September 2016 by former employee Colleen Marie Burns, who alleged that as many as 30 horses had already died of starvation.
Burns’ allegations were affirmed by South Dakota Animal Industry Board veterinarian Marc Hammrich, who discovered the remains of about 25 dead horses on the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros premises.
The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros owed debts of $90,005 and $30,323 to two hay suppliers, and was under judicial order to pay them.
$200,000 in impounding costs
About 270 of the 810 impounded horses were adopted out before a December 1, 2016 deadline set by agreement among the involved law enforcement agencies, the South Dakota Animal Industry Board, and the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros.
The remaining 540 horses were to have been auctioned off to enable Dewey and Ziebach counties to recover expenses incurred in feeding the horses for several months. “Dewey and Ziebach counties predict their impounding-related costs from the past few months will reach $200,000 when all the bills are tallied,” reported Tupper at the time.
Rehomed by Fleet of Angels
The auction was repeatedly postponed and relocated, however, while the South Dakota Animal Industry Board, Dewey and Ziebach counties, and the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros negotiated new terms, to avoid the risk that the horses would be acquired by killer-buyers and trucked to slaughter either in Canada or Mexico.
Eventually all of the impounded horses “were transferred to a Colorado-based nonprofit, Fleet of Angels, which led an effort to find adoptive homes,” Tupper recounted. “That nationwide effort concluded in January 2018, according to Fleet of Angels founder Elaine Nash, who wrote on Facebook that all 907 of the horses (including colts born since the herd was impounded by authorities in 2016) had been placed with new owners.”
Gila Bend herd
Under the settlement of charges brought against Sussman and the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros, the organization was allowed to keep 20 horses of a bloodline brought to South Dakota from the Gila Bend region of Arizona in 2000, and was permitted to let them breed, a condition that many observers believed would lead inevitably to a repetition of the mass neglect case.
Originally Sussman and the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros imported 30 Gila Bend horses. The Gila Bend herd had increased to 139 when the 810 horses were impounded.
Founded in 1960, under Sussman since 1989
Founded in 1960 by Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnston, the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros was instrumental during Johnston’s lifetime, 1912-1977, in winning passage of a variety of local, state, and federal legislation to protect wild horses, culminating in the Wild Free-Ranging Horse & Burro Protection Act of 1971.
Following Johnston’s death, the society was headed for 12 years by Helene Reilly, who was among the founding board members, before passing to Sussman.
“Natural” horse herd control failed
Sussman in 1999 relocated the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros from Nevada to South Dakota, and brought wild horses from four different herds to the premises. Under Sussman, the horses were simultaneously allowed to breed to “conserve” their purportedly unique bloodlines, and were presented as experiment in “natural” horse population control, without the use of contraceptive measures.
The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros herds predictably quadrupled in less than a decade.
Backed by Friends of Animals
But Sussman meanwhile found influential allies in Friends of Animals and the FoA subsidiary Friends of Wild Horses, which have for decades opposed wild horse contraceptive and sterilization programs.
Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral repeatedly made much of Sussman’s self-proclaimed success in “natural” herd management, and helped Sussman to raise funds, but has said little about either Sussman or the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs & Burros since the October 2017 impoundment.