Bond of $200,000 set for “The hot dog man,” allegedly caught hot dogging a few times too often
MARYSVILLE, Ohio––Bond of $200,000 was set on August 5, 2020 for high-profile pit bull advocate Steffen Baldwin by Judge Mark O’Connor of the Common Pleas Court in Union County, Ohio.
Arrested on July 23, 2020 in Acton, California, Baldwin was extradited to Ohio to face a 42-count criminal indictment, accessible at https://www.facebook.com/pawprotectorsrescue/photos/rpp.181324838630169/3089596421136315/?type=3&theater.
Rising rapidly to prominence after becoming executive director of the Union County Humane Society in August 2008, Baldwin has often been featured at public events, in publications, and on the web sites of pro-pit bull organizations including Austin Pets Alive, the Best Friends Animal Society, Los Angeles Animal Services, and Maddie’s Fund.
Ran failed tattoo shop & grant writing business
After leaving the Union County Humane Society in 2013, Baldwin with considerable fanfare formed the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio, but the organization fizzled and was stripped of IRS 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit status in 2017 after three consecutive years of failing to file annual financial reports.
Baldwin later admitted in a LinkedIn posting that the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio was not “my first business idea or my first business venture for that matter. A few years earlier I was the co-owner of an unsuccessful tattoo shop, Lions & Lambs in Marysville, and a few years before that I started an unsuccessful grant writing business, Baldwin Consulting Solutions. Both failed miserably.”
Partnered with securities fraud suspect
Baldwin and Jeffery Luke Westerman meanwhile co-founded the political action committee Ohioans Against Breed Discrimination in 2015.
Westerman left Ohio in 2018 to become executive director of the Humane Society of El Paso, Texas, but left that position three days after television station KFOX 14 on January 3, 2019 reported his indictment by an Ohio grand jury on 19 felony counts of securities law violations and theft.
Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien told media that Westerman had between 2010 and 2018 allegedly “solicited over $700,000 from 10 Ohio citizens for investment purposes, later misrepresented the status of the purported investments in false account statements, and used some funds for personal purposes rather than the expressed investment purpose. Cash withdrawals and use for personal expenses from investment funds exceeded $300,000.”
Westerman has not yet gone to trial, his original trial dates in February and March 2020 having been indefinitely postponed due to requirements of social distancing imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Killed at least eight dogs”
In the interim, wrote Marysville Journal-Tribune reporter Mac Cordell, “The Union County Grand Jury has indicted Steffen Evan Baldwin, also known as Steffen Finkelstein, 39,” who is now “charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, bribery, 15 counts of telecommunications fraud, 13 cases of cruelty to animals, six counts of tampering with records, two counts of grand theft, two counts of falsification, and one count each of grand theft of a firearm and impersonation of a peace officer.
“Included in the court documents,” Cordell mentioned, “is the allegation that Baldwin ‘did negligently, needlessly kill’ at least eight dogs,” all of them believed to be pit bulls whom Baldwin had contracted to train and rehome.
One of those pit bulls, named in the indictments, was Remi, rehomed to Angelo and Litsa Kargakos, of Hubbard, Ohio, in May 2016, despite having been identified as a “dangerous dog” according to Ohio law by the Trumbull County pound.
“When we pulled Remi, he had some pretty severe guarding issues,” Angelo and Litsa Kargakos acknowledged in subsequent Facebook postings. “We rehabilitated Remi in our home for four months and invested thousands of dollars in him. We reached the point that he needed to go somewhere with a broader network of possible adopters. We gave Steffen $1,000 to polish Remi up and find him his forever home.”
Instead, Remi disappeared. Baldwin in April 2017 claimed via Facebook that Remi had been euthanized after killing another pit bull, named Zack, in a “yard accident.”
Paperwork issued by the Rascal Animal Hospital, of Dublin, Ohio, confirmed that Baldwin brought Remi for euthanasia on December 28, 2016.
Angelo and Litsa Kargakos publicized the case, bringing forward testimony from others who described having had similar experiences with Baldwin.
“Total exceeds number of indictments”
“I am not sure we are ever going to know the total number of animals he killed,” Union County prosecutor Dave Phillips told Cordell. “I certainly think the total exceeds the number of indictments.”
Summarized Cordell, “Phillips said investigators began looking into Baldwin,” who shortly thereafter relocated to southern California.
“In California,” Cordell continued, “Baldwin started Save Them Dog Training, which focused on reactive dogs with bite histories. He also helped found Underdog Alliance to advocate for dogs with severe behavioral problems.
“Phillips said Baldwin would allegedly tell people he was taking dogs in to rescue or adopt them.”
Stole a handgun?
Explained Phillips, “Then he would raise money for the dogs – for their care, for their adoption, for their training – but had allegedly euthanized them,” demonstrating what Phillips called “a pattern of lying to people to raise money. The allegations,” Phillips said, “indicate the money he raised for the animals, even after they were euthanized, were used for his personal expenses,” including gifts for his girlfriend and entertainment at strip clubs.
Stipulated Cordell, “The indictments indicate Baldwin took funds from a variety of animal shelters, organizations, and individuals throughout the state and nation. The indictments also allege Baldwin lied on his resume to get his position in Union County, and that he lied on court documents. Also included in the indictment is the allegation that he stole a handgun from an animal rescue task force.
“Phillips said local investigators worked with police in California,” Cordell finished. “He said that when it was time to serve the indictment and arrest Baldwin, police in California invited Baldwin to conduct an animal training for the department. When Baldwin arrived, U.S. Marshals arrested him.
“False narrative & agenda”
“If convicted on all counts,” Cordell noted, “Baldwin could face more than 81 years in prison.”
In actuality, sentencing on the multiple charges would normally be concurrent, not consecutive. Typically defendants in animal cruelty and fraud cases are sentenced on only one or two counts for which they are convicted, with further sentencing suspended on condition of good behavior while serving whatever sentences they receive immediately.
Charged Sharon Logan of Paw Protectors Rescue, in Orange County, California, who helped Angelo and Litsa Kargakos to pursue their case against Baldwin, “This is a perfect example of those in the no-kill movement pushing a false narrative and agenda, and of no-kill gone horribly wrong and awry!”
Earlier, on February 6, 2019, Logan posted a list of three incidents allegedly involving Baldwin and pit bulls he trained, distilled from information that Baldwin himself posted to social media. In one of those incidents, a trainer visiting Baldwin from England was allegedly mauled by a pit bull named Goober, “had to be hospitalized for three days, suffered a broken leg and needs extensive plastic surgery.”
Also, Baldwin allegedly “rescued” a pit bull named Travis from Orange County Animal Services, who had bitten two other dogs and two humans, and was found dead three weeks later; and a pit bull brought to Baldwin for training by a rescue in Long Beach, California, “lost his tail in a fight with another while in Steffen’s care.”
“Crickets” & the “Hot Dog Man”
Logan noted “Crickets [silence] from some of his most diehard supporters of the last two years,” naming the Best Friends Animal Society, Austin Pets Alive founder Eileen Jefferson, Pima Animal Care director Kristen Auerbach, and Los Angeles Animal Services general manager Brenda Barnette.
Logan also mentioned Saskia Boisot of the No Kill Shelter Alliance, and the pit bull advocacy organizations Live Love Animal Rescue, Blockhead Brigade, IPitttytheBull, I Stand With My Pack, and Pitty Pawfessors Humane Education.
Additionally worthy of mention would be the pit bull advocates who have since November 2017 helped Baldwin to promote Belle & the Hot Dog Man, an illustrated book for children promoting the adoption of former fighting dogs.
Baldwin managed to establish a reputation for himself as a purported expert trainer and handler of pit bulls despite having apparently been integrally involved in the high-profile failed attempted rehabilitation of a pit bull named Bosco by then 61-year-old Best Friends Animal Society employee Jacqueline Bedsaul Johnson in 2017.
According to Johnson in an April 4, 2017 posting to Facebook, Bosco “was found running at large in November  and taken to Animal Control,” apparently in Toledo, Ohio.
“Lucas County Pit Crew pulled him,” Johnson continued, “and he went into a foster home. He was adopted days before Christmas,” but “bit his adopter,” and was returned to a foster home after completing quarantine.
“Ohio declared him a dangerous dog because of the bite,” Johnson admitted, “so he was moved to an out of state foster home. He was driven across the country to our home in Arizona.”
On December 4, 2017, Bosco turned on Johnson.
“Both her arms were broken, [her] wrist [was] shattered and [she] nearly lost a finger,” which was reattached, Johnson’s daughter Adria recounted in a GoFundMe appeal on her mother’s behalf.
Philosophy degree from West Point?
Baldwin’s credentials in many respects, not just as a nonprofit administrator and dog expert, have been called into question since 2014 by the Ohio-based pit bull victim advocacy blog Scorched Earth.
“Begin by taking a look at the resume that Mr. Baldwin, also known as Steffen Evan Finkelstein, posted on LinkedIn,” Scorched Earth advised. “Start at the bottom with education.”
Baldwin claimed to have attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from 1999 to 2001, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, but West Point offers only four-year degrees, and the dates of when Baldwin claims to have attended West Point conflict with those of his active duty stint in the U.S. Army, from July 1998 to December 2001.
After discharge, according to the LinkedIn entry, Baldwin held a series of YMCA jobs from June 2002 through August 2005, became development manager for a drug treatment facility, and then was executive director for the Victor Valley Community Hospital Foundation, identified by Scorched Earth as “a community hospital [in southern California] that went bankrupt in 2010.”
Haisley & Croft
Baldwin and Westerman are only the latest of many high-profile pit bull advocates to face charges recently in somewhat comparable cases.
Animal Rescue Corps founder and former Humane Society of the U.S. director of investigations Scotlund Haisley, 51, of Montgomery County Maryland, was on September 13, 2019 sentenced to serve to 46 months in prison for robbing and attempting to rob a Washington D.C. Subway sandwich shop, on two separate occasions in January 2019.
Bradley Lane Croft, 48, whom the pit bull advocacy organization Animal Farm Foundation funded from 2013 to 2017 to prepare pit bulls for police work, was on December 18, 2019 ordered to forfeit more than $1 million in assets to the federal government, following his conviction on eight counts of wire fraud, four counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of money laundering and two counts of making a false tax return.