A bitter and protracted legal battle between the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) and the New York Attorney General's office ended at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 19 when a settlement was signed.
The complaint filed by N.Y. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman back in May 2012 was dismissed "with prejudice," meaning the allegations of herd neglect and abuse cannot be asserted against the TRF again, according to a TRF announcement. In exchange, the TRF has agreed to the appointment of three independent directors and the creation of a method for selecting a new paid executive director, who will report to the board chairman and board members of the TRF.
"Our herd—just under 1,000 horses—remains in fine condition as we head into winter, just as it has been through this entire ordeal," said John Moore III, chairman for the TRF in a prepared statement. "We are relieved to have behind us this nuisance suit that the NYAG should be embarrassed to have initiated."
In May 2012, Schneiderman pushed forward with the case based on affidavits from a whistleblower and a veterinarian, who alleged a pattern of abuse spread across satellite farms from New York to Kentucky to Oklahoma. At the time, the TRF reported it had about 1,100 horses under its care.
"New York needs the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to be fiscally sound and responsibly managed," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Our agreement to remake the board of directors will help put this important charity back on solid financial ground and able to care for the animals it receives—and it gives TRF a shot to reclaim its place as one of America's leading Thoroughbred organizations. As it was previously constituted, the foundation's board proved unable to conduct necessary financial oversight and management."
Schneiderman's lawsuit sought the removal of the responsible directors. Per the conditions of the settlement, Moore and long-time director Diana Pikulski will resign within a year of the new executive director being hired and no later than August 2015, when their current terms were due to expire. Pikulski will also discontinue her service as vice president of external affairs when a new executive director is hired but will move into a position as director of external affairs and will continue at the discretion of the board.
Contacted on Nov. 19, Moore again stressed what he saw as a huge waste of time and money for all involved.
"It is an awful shame that it cost us $750,000 and thousands of hours of wasted management time to roll back a pile of lies," Moore said. "There was never any question about the health of the herd—never. No horses died. No horses starved."
Moore said he was grateful for the pro-bono services of Barry Ostrager, TRF counsel and president of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders.
"The lack of merit to the case is reflected by the terms of the settlement agreement," Ostrager said in a TRF release.
Among the three new board members to be appointed, one will be a veterinarian recommended by the Attorney General's office, one will be recommended by a respected animal rights organization, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and one member will be appointed by a Thoroughbred industry organization, such as The Jockey Club, according to Moore.
"We welcome the new appointments," Moore said. "But the really important thing is that it's over."
The TRF, founded in 1983, is one of the world's oldest and largest equine rescue organizations. Its mission is providing homes and necessary medical care for Thoroughbred horses that have been retired from racing. Hundreds of these horses have been retrained for other horse careers.
When prominent owner/breeder Paul Mellon died in 1999, his estate bequeathed a minimum of $5 million in an endowment to the TRF and added $2 million more in 2001. Today the endowment provides the TRF with 12% of its annual budget (about $3 million). According to public records, the TRF has raised approximately $40 million in charitable donations during its 30-year existence.
Correspondent Tom Precious contributed to this story.