“Having difficulty finding valid legal addresses,” says plaintiff’s attorney
MONTREAL––Proceedings in a lawsuit filed by the Montreal SPCA to try to recover the use of the domain name <spca.com> from SPCA International have been delayed because the plaintiffs are having difficulty finding valid legal addresses at which to serve notice on some of the defendants, plaintiff’s attorney Pierre Lessard told ANIMALS 24-7 on October 24, 2008.
Served as of the original scheduled court date in October were Pierre Barnoti, who was executive director of the Montreal SPCA from 1994 until July 2008 and is founder of SPCA International; SPCA International itself, incorporated in Delaware since 2006; Raouf Dallala of Montreal, who according to the lawsuit acted as consultant for over 10 years to the Montreal SPCA during Barnoti’s tenure, and was paid during that period fees of over $500,000; former Montreal SPCA board members Howard Sholzberg and Michel Poulos; the Montreal firm Magi Graph Concept Inc.; the New York City firm Quadriga Art Inc., currently acting as a fundraising intermediary for the benefit of SPCA International, according to the lawsuit; and the Virginia firm Network Solutions, identified as registrar for the domain names <spca.com> and <spcamontreal.com>.
“Seeking permanent injunction”
Not yet served, Lessard told ANIMALS 24-7, was American Charities Group, with a listed but apparently invalid address at 6300 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 710, in Los Angeles.
This address has also been listed as the West Coast Office of SPCA International. Like Quadriga, American Charities Group is currently acting as a fundraising intermediary for the benefit of SPCA International, the Montreal SPCA lawsuit alleges.
“As owner of the domain names <spca.com> and <spcamontreal.com>,” the Montreal SPCA lawsuit states, “the plaintiff is seeking from the court an interlocutory and permanent injunction requiring the defendants to cease using the domain name <spca.com>, to remit all information regarding donations, revenues, and income received by the defendant SPCA International Inc. through the web site <www.spca.com>, and to register the plaintiff as the sole owner and registrant of both domain names.”
Centre for Intellectual Property
Filed by Lessard, of the Montreal law firm Marchand, Melancon, Forget, the Montreal SPCA case closely parallels a supporting affidavit filed by Wendy Ann Adams. Adams, a Montreal SPCA board member, is also an associate professor and director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy at McGill University in Montreal.
“I am a special advisor to the board of directors of the Canadian SPCA,” avers Adams, citing the original incorporated name of the Montreal SPCA. Founded in 1869, the Montreal SPCA is the oldest humane society in Canada. “I am personally aware of all the facts alleged hereinafter,” Adams adds.
Lessard told ANIMALS 24-7 that many of the supporting exhibits attached to the lawsuit were taken from the computer that Barnoti used at the Montreal SPCA.
History of SPCA.com
The Montreal SPCA registered the domain name <spca.com> with Network Solutions in October 1996, the lawsuit states.
The events leading to the lawsuit gained momentum in December 2004, according to the Montreal SPCA lawsuit, when Luke Montgomery was hired by Barnoti on behalf of the plaintiff to prepare and present to the plaintiff a branding proposal for the website <spca.com>.
Montgomery rose to transient prominence as the gay rights and anti-AIDS activist Luke Sissyfag in 1993-1994, disrupting a speech by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton in December 1993, three speeches by Health Secretary Donna Shalala in early 1994, and an Easter service attended by the Clinton family in April 1994.
Hired in February 1997 by Last Chance for Animals, Montgomery after some initial controversy has remained involved in animal advocacy, mostly quietly and behind the scenes. Montgomery resurfaced in February 2005 as a prominent source in an exposé of Montreal SPCA fundraising practices and of SPCA International aired by CTV, the largest nongovernmental television network in Canada.
“Realized the potential of using domain name <spca.com>”
“Barnoti realized the potential of using the domain name <spca.com> as a vehicle for fundraising in the U.S. and other countries,” the Montreal SPCA lawsuit charges. “He then took the initiative to find partners to create the defendant SPCA International for fundraising purposes and to use <spca.com> as the web site address.”
Barnoti in a July 2005 e-mail to a Quadriga executive asserted that “Presently and without any development or efforts, <spca.com> is visited close to 30 million times a year. The untapped potential of this site could translate into a lot of donations directly made on the site or by direct mail.”
“During the next year,” says the Montreal SPCA lawsuit, Barnoti informed only a few of the members of the [Montreal SPCA] board, namely the defendants about “our international project.”
However, the Montreal SPCA lawsuit alleges the Montreal SPCA financed over the years maintenance and development costs and expenses of the web site <spca.com> without being reimbursed, including all the travel expenses of Barnoti to Europe and the U.S. to attend conventions and meetings, including a meeting in New York with Paul Irwin, a well known fundraiser, to discuss fundraising opportunities using the domain name and web site <spca.com>.
Irwin & Gordon
As vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S. 1975-1996, and president 1996-2004, Paul Irwin became the highest-paid executive to that point in the history of animal welfare, collecting a peak of $570,325 in 1998, including deferred compensation. Irwin even cofounded a private bank.
After Irwin was ushered into retirement from HSUS after the election of current HSUS president Wayne Pacelle in April 2004, ANIMALS 24-7 heard from a variety of sources during the next few months that Irwin appeared to be working on a plan to create a rival to HSUS by merging smaller charities whose programs when combined could become magnets for donors. The rumors stopped after Irwin became president of the American Bible Society, a charity with at least five times the assets of HSUS.
At both HSUS and the American Bible Society, Irwin employed web developer Richard Gordon.
“Convicted in 1980 of mail fraud, interstate transportation of a stolen check, and making a false statement to a bank,” Gordon, 62, “served more than two years of a seven-year sentence in federal prison,” reported New York Times technology writer Brad Stone in a May 18, 2008 exposé entitled “An E-Commerce Empire, From Porn to Puppies.”
Gordon recovered his fortunes through a series of partnerships involving Japanese web commerce billionaire Wataru Takahashi. Takahashi founded Dial Talk International. DTI is based on the Caribbean island of Curaçao and runs, from Los Angeles, “a vast and profitable network of explicit web sites for the Japanese market,” summarized Stone.
Gordon, Stone found, “owns a credit card payment processing empire with roots in the world of sexual entertainment,” which facilitates credit card transactions for DTI.
The American Bible Society severed relations with Gordon within days after The New York Times published Stone’s exposé, and did not renew Irwin’s contract, which expired on June 30, 2008.
Meanwhile, Barnoti acknowledged to ANIMALS 24-7 in 2007, Irwin had introduced him to Gordon.
“Gordon is not representing SPCA International,” Barnoti told ANIMALS 24-7, just five days after the date of a letter in which Gordon proposed to the president of a smaller charity that it should merge with SPCA International, “but has undertaken contractually the creation and maintenance of SPCA International’s website.”
Irwin may also have introduced Barnoti to Quadriga, another firm that HSUS worked with during Irwin’s tenure as HSUS president.
“On April 24, 2006, Barnoti sent the final version of an agreement between SPCA International and Quadriga to the defendants Scholzberg and Poulos for comment,” says the Montreal SPCA lawsuit.
“This agreement states that Barnoti is the sole owner of <spca.com> and licenses it to Quadriga to handle and coordinate all the fundraising and marketing activities for SPCA International and the web site <spca.com>.
“This agreement provides that Quadriga will support the financial start-up costs of SPCA International and be reimbursed from the proceeds of the funds generated by the web site <spca.com>.”
This was a month before SPCA International was formally incorporated, with Barnoti, Sholzberg and Poulos as the officers.
“To date,” the Montreal SPCA lawsuit says, “the Plaintiff does not know how much SPCA International has received in donations and/or in revenues or income through the <spca.com> domain name.”
The Montreal SPCA has asked for damages of more than $1.9 million.
Canadian SPCA in danger of bankruptcy
Responded Barnoti to the Montreal SPCA, via attorney Julius H. Grey of Montreal, after receiving the Montreal SPCA’s demand letter on July 22, 2008, “Our client has valid legal explanations to justify or explain any and all events or decisions you claim caused significant damages, which are strongly denied.
“Be advised that he will not forward any amounts to your office, and may pursue a slander and damage action against SPCA and its current board of directors.”
Barnoti took an indefinite sick leave from the Montreal SPCA in March 2008, and defendants Poulos and Scholzberg left the board after then recently resigned former board member Neil Halsey and three other Canadian SPCA members on March 19, 2008 called a special board meeting to address issues including Barnoti’s failure to produce an annual report for the 2006-2007 fiscal year in a timely manner.
Acting president Nancy Breitman told CTV that the Canadian SPCA was $4 million in debt, and was in danger of bankruptcy.
Among other issues of concern during Barnoti’s tenure, CTV reported, “Confidential documents showed that for a time, the Montreal SPCA intentionally killed dogs to fill an order for the veterinary school in St. Hyacinthe. The practice has since been discontinued. SPCA veterinarian Lech Leskiewicz was fired a day after telling CTV news about a discrepancy between the SPCA s actual euthanasia rates at the Laval shelter and the numbers it provided to the city of Laval. The Laval shelter has since closed and Laval police opened an investigation.”
With the Montreal SPCA case pending, SPCA International scored a global media and web traffic hit in October 2008 after a dog named Ratchet was not cleared for transportation from Iraq to the U.S. with six others who were flown stateside by Operation Baghdad Pups, one of the few visible SPCA International programs.
“More than 45,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Army to let the puppy come to the U.S.,” Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer reported, providing a web link to SPCA International, but omitting any mention of the many other issues associated with the organization.
Operation Baghdad Pups through the end of October 2008 had reportedly brought to the U.S. 64 animals who had been adopted by U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq. Earlier promoted as “Baghdad Buddies,” Operation Baghdad Pups emulates the work of Military Mascots, of Massachusetts, a much older and lower-profile organization.
Military Mascots founder Bonnie Buckley worried to ANIMALS 24-7 after Baghdad Buddies made a splashy debut in 2007 that lack of caution in moving the Iraq animals could jeopardize her work.
In June 2008 one of 26 animals whom Baghdad Buddies imported from Iraq to the U.S. was found to be rabid.
Operation Baghdad Pups is directed by Terri Crisp, identified as “SPCA International’s Animal Resource and Rescue Consultant.”
Disaster relief coordinator for United Animal Nations 1991-2001, Crisp formed her own organization, Noah’s Wish, after controversies surfaced about her work during Hurricane Floyd and following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Reportedly receiving $8.4 million in donations after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Noah’s Wish came under investigation by the California Attorney General over how the funds were allocated. Terminated by the Noah’s Wish board in March 2007, Crisp founded an organization called Animal Resources later in 2007, and began working with SPCA International soon afterward.
In April 2008, observed Brad Stone, “Stickam, the live video social network operated by Mr. Takahashi’s DTI, sent out a press release proclaiming a new partnership: the social network had been selected, the release said, as the exclusive provider of live web video for Operation Baghdad Pups. Richard Gordon and Wataru Takahashi were still looking for new ways to work together.”