N.Y. AG initiates action over horse care non-profit

Bryan Cohen May 3, 2012, 6:00pm


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a lawsuit on Thursday against the directors of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation for allegedly driving the organization into insolvency and failing to care for its horses.

TRF is one of the nation's largest non-profit organizations geared toward retired thoroughbred racehorses. TRF's board of directors allegedly failed to provide funding necessary to care for its 1,100 horses, causing retired racehorses to become neglected and deprived of the most basic care.

"New York and the nation need the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to succeed," Schneiderman said. "But unfortunately, TRF's board has driven this vital organization into the ground, threatening its mission and the very horses it is supposed to protect.

"Despite my office's efforts to encourage reform, TRF's current directors have proven incapable of turning around the dire situation they have created. The time has come to give new leadership a chance."

Schneiderman alleged that TRF had taken too many horses into its herd for years and could not afford afford their care. The directors of TRF allegedly failed to heed multiple warnings, including from its own officers, that the non-profit would not be able to properly sustain the number of horses it took on, Schneiderman says.

The organization allegedly provided funding for its horses that was well below industry standards for years, paying its boarding farms no more than $3 per horse per day to provide basic care and food to the horses. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that the amount is substantially less than is required for basic care and is less than half what other horse rescue organizations spend per horse, according to a December report by the New York State Task Force on Retired Racehorses.

Horses at multiple TRF farms allegedly suffered serious neglect, including not receiving treatments for open wounds and injuries, lack of adequate feed, lack of basic veterinary care and being left exposed to the elements without shelter during severe weather.

The board of TRF allegedly led the organization close to financial ruin, surviving only by taking on $1.5 million in debt and improperly dipping into its endowment fund established by the executors of the Paul Mellon estate. The board allegedly used the new debt to partly repay personal loans by two directors, diverting funds that could have been spent on treating and feeding horses. At the end of 2011, TRF allegedly improperly withdrew $200,000 from the endowment fund in excess of the annual spending limits of the fund.

In the past five years, at least 25 TRF directors have been asked to leave, have resigned or have declined to stand for re-election, including four chief executives in the last three years.

Schneiderman is seeking to restore financial viability and stability to TRF by instituting a board able to fulfill the charitable mission of the organization. Schneiderman will seek expedited inspections and discovery to make sure that interim relief is provided to TRF's horses.

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