Horsemen File Suit Against Illinois HBPA

Allegations include a conflict of interest by the executive director.

By Ron Mitchell and Eric Mitchell

A group of Southern Illinois horsemen have filed a lawsuit alleging the president and executive director of the Illinois Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association are operating the organization large in secret and have blatantly ignored efforts by members to shine a light on its financial dealings.

The suit, filed Aug. 11 in Madison County, Ill., Third Judicial Circuit Court by 22 members of the ILHBPA, is asking for ILHBPA executive director Lanny Brooks and president John Wainwright to be removed from office for breaching their fiduciary responsibilities to the organization.

Brooks and Wainwright did not respond to multiple requests for their reaction to the lawsuit.

The suit is also asking the court to require all ILHBPA contracts, meeting minutes, an active membership roster, employee contracts, and tax records be made available for inspection.

What prompted the lawsuit was the fallout from a July 27 meeting during which ILHBPA members voted unanimously to create a three-person committee "for the purpose of sercuring competing bids from independent certified public accounting firms, in order to conduct an audit of the ILHBPA and the associated R.A.C.E. operation," according to the lawsuit. R.A.C.E is a separate non-profit 501(c)3 that finds homes for retired racehorses.

Andrew Calloway, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was to be chairman of the special review committee with Wainwright and Rob Martinez. When Calloway tried to set up the first meeting, he was told by Wainwright the financial review voted on by the membership was "not going to happen," according to the suit. Wainwright reportedly said this decision was made after conferring with Brooks, who had not attended the July 27 meeting.

Members have been concerned about how finances of the ILHBPA are being handled particularly since learning that Brooks has been paid and/or compensated in some way by Fairmount Park, the racetrack with which the ILHBPA negotiates simulcast agreements and other contracts. This financial arrangement between Brooks and the racetrack was confirmed by Wainwright during the July 27 meeting, according to the lawsuit.

"I, along with 21 other courageous horsemen and women, believe it is our moral obligation to bring respect, accountability, and transparency to our organization," said Calloway in a email statement. Calloway said his family has spent the past 70 years racing at Fairmount Park and the old Cahokia Downs. "Unfortunately our efforts to accomplish this as a private matter among the horsemen went completely unanswered, and we were forced into the courts to seek relief."

The suit also states that in February of 2010, there was $3.2 million in money being held in a local bank from the state's impact fee legislation. "The membership has not been given an adequate accounting of the Association's funds in recent years, and plaintiffs are unable to determine what became of those funds, or how they were used," the suit contends.

"Around the same time that multiple millions of dollars in 'impact money' was received, the amount of rent charged for stalls at Fairmount Park, and paid by the ILHBPA, increased from a few hundred thousand dollars to over one million dollars. The ILHBPA membership had no meaningful participation in negotiation [of] the new stall-rent contract, and the basis for the increase in the stall rent is not clear." ILHBPA members have requested copies of this contract, as allowed under the association's bylaws, and gotten no response from Brooks.

The R.A.C.E. unwanted horse adoption program operated by the ILHBPA is funded largely by withholdings taken from ILHBPA members' purses from horses running at Fairmount Park.

According to the suit, Brooks has told ILHBPA members they must contribute to the R.A.C.E. program and cannot opt-out. Plaintiffs in the suit also report having information that Brooks has drawn checks on the R.A.C.E. account for "purposes inconsistent with the retired racehorse program."

"The facts in this matter speak for themselves, and we only wish to exercise our rights as outlined in our bylaws and the law of the state," said Calloway. "Hopefully, we can resolve these issues in short order, and once again have meaningful participation in the governance of an organization that we are proud to call our own."