The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which has more than 6,000 members, has initiated an investigation that could be connected to a probe under way at the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.
Joseph Cohen, interim counsel for the Kentucky HBPA given the recent resignation of attorney Don Sturgill, said the "external investigation" began the week of April 22 and will be concluded as quickly as possible. Dr. Alex Harthill, president of the Kentucky HBPA, referred all questions to Cohen.
Cohen said Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline is on a paid leave of absence, and John Griffith, the organization's treasurer, resigned the week of April 22. Cohen said he recommended that an "independent source" be retained to carry out the investigation, which includes a look at the Kentucky HBPA's books.
Maline could not be reached immediately for comment April 29.
The National HBPA formed a task force April 18 to look into potential conflicts of interest by former officers in regard to its relationship with Choctaw Racing Services of Oklahoma. The National HBPA has an ongoing contract with the tribal company, which operates about 15 off-track wagering facilities in Oklahoma.
National HBPA president John Roark said Choctaw Racing Services has done nothing wrong. The two entities have a contract whereby the horsemen's group is paid a fee per month for consulting services concerning simulcasts.
Another company, Century Consultants of Illinois, had a deal with previous management at Choctaw Racing Services. The company's president is Rick Hiles, former president of the Kentucky and National HBPAs, and Maline is listed as its secretary in records provided by the Illinois Secretary of State's office. Hiles said the company has done nothing illegal.
Minutes reflect that the National HBPA executive committee requested regular reports on the relationship between Century Consultants and Choctaw Racing Services in 1999. (A high-ranking HBPA official said the regular reports were never produced.) However, it also waived conflicts of interest in negotiations between its counsel (Sturgill) and its vice president (Hiles) and Choctaw Racing Services.
Cohen said the National HBPA issue could be related in some way to the Kentucky HBPA investigation, but that time would tell. "Doc Harthill recognizes this is a public trust," Cohen said. "He wants to make sure we get to the bottom of it."
On April 28, the Kentucky HBPA held its horsemen's reception at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs. A list of members on the board of directors in the official program was missing the name of Frank Jones Jr., the Kentucky Racing Commission vice chairman who had served as vice president of the Kentucky HBPA. Jones, a Thoroughbred owner, could not be immediately reached for comment.
In his letter from the president, Harthill, who last year defeated incumbent Hiles for the Kentucky HBPA presidency, focused mainly on medication issues, but also noted the Kentucky HBPA "has been tested to the limit. It has not been found wanting. While the battle continues, we may well look back with great pride and to the future with great hope."
Harthill also said he has been working closely with Alex Rankin of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. The two organizations worked together this year from the horsemen's perspective to help put together legislation to authorize alternative gaming at the state's racetracks. The effort failed, but the industry is expected to make another push at an upcoming General Assembly session.