PETA loses espionage lawsuit vs. Ringling
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:
FAIRFAX, Virginia–A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury on
March 15 found Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus owner Kenneth
Feld not guilty of illegally conspiring to infiltrate and harm People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals between 1988 and 1998.
The verdict may not conclude a lawsuit that PETA first filed
in May 2001. PETA attorney Philip Hirschkop told Brian Westley of
Associated Press and Matthew Jones of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
that PETA would appeal. Hirschkop, soon to retire, later told
ANIMAL PEOPLE that the decision to appeal would have to be made by
PETA president Ingrid Newkirk–“But I know what I would do,” he said.
Hirschkop said the case was only the second loss of his
career in a jury verdict. “The jury asked for instructions from the
judge on the difference between harm and injury,” Hirschkop recalled.
“During the nine-day trial, Ringling internal documents
showed that the circus hired private investigators who infiltrated
animal rights groups, obtained credit card and other personal data,
and stole stacks of confidential papers, such as donor lists and
strategy memos,” summarized Tom Jackman of the Washington Post.
“But Feld’s attorneys pointed out that PETA’s donations have
continued to rise, despite Ringling’s actions, and that the circus
did nothing untoward with the purloined documents.”
Said PETA in a prepared statement closely parallel to
Hirschkop’s spoken comments to ANIMAL PEOPLE, “At least three
witnesses testified that Feld received reports of the operation
throughout the matter. Testimony made clear that Feld’s senior vice
presidents, other senior staff, controller, accountants, and
auditors knew of the operation, but Feld claimed that he was kept in
“PETA filed suit against Feld to uncover the details of what
it believed was a conspiracy to destroy the animal protection groups
that were the most outspoken critics of Ringling,” the PETA
statement continued. “Feld’s operation was overseen by Clair George,
former head of covert operations for the CIA, and was run on a daily
basis by a private eye named Richard Froemming,” who died in 2003.
“From 1988 to 1998, Froemming and his several shell entities (with
no employees or functions) were paid more than $8.8 million. Upon
cross-examination, Feld claimed that he did not know what Froemming
and his entities did for all that money.”
Through the lawsuit, PETA said, “We pried the lid off
nearly 20,000 pages of documents,” revealing that the spy operation
“placed as many as 16 undercover operatives at PETA, the Performing
Animal Welfare Society, the Elephant Alliance, In Defense of
Animals, and possibly other animal protection groups.
Naming the plants
“The operative at PAWS was Julie Lewis, who also infiltrated
In Defense of Animals and the Elephant Alliance. Lewis also
attempted to infiltrate PETA, but did not succeed. In addition to
Lewis, another operative, named Anita Walker, infiltrated the
Elephant Alliance using the name Catherine Stevens. She also
infiltrated PETA and removed confidential documents,” PETA
“One of the main operatives, Steven Kendall, infiltrated and
took control of [the defunct anti-animal rights group] Putting People
First,” alleged PETA, “and repeatedly misrepresented himself to the
public, denying any affiliation with Feld or Ringling, despite being
their paid operative. Kendall also used an apparently stolen check
from the Elephant Alliance in what was described in court as a scheme
to extort a California state senator into removing an elephant
protection bill that he had introduced.
“Kendall also acknowledged receiving a confidential list of
PETA contacts across the U.S. and using the list to interfere with
PETA’s anti-circus demonstrations and to try to cause PETA to lose
members,” PETA said. “Kendall also admitted to getting a job
covertly at the office of a Toronto City Council member and to
obtaining confidential documents from that office in his efforts on
behalf of the circus to defeat” a bill that would have banned circus
performances within Toronto city limits.
Hirschkop repeated each allegation to ANIMAL PEOPLE in greater detail
on March 17. Many were also described in trial coverage by
Associated Press and major regional media.
“Feld fought unsuccessfully in pretrial motions to prevent
disclosure to PETA of his financial statements,” wrote Matthew
Barakat of Associated Press. “In December 2005, a judge sanctioned
Feld for failing to turn over evidence, and in August 2005 the judge
sanctioned six of Feld’s lawyers for contempt of court and
interfering with a deposition.”
An earlier suit against Ringling, filed by the Performing
Animal Welfare Society, was settled out of court when Ringling
agreed to retire two elephants to PAWS and pay for their upkeep,
Hirschkop said, confirming earlier reports.
“In 1999, freelance journalist Jan Pottker filed a
multimillion-dollar suit against Feld,” recalled Jones of the
Virginian-Pilot, “claiming he had overseen a conspiracy against her
that involved spying on her, tapping her phone, breaking into her
home and sabotaging her writing career with phony publishing deals.
Pottker alleged this retribution stemmed from an unflattering 1990
article she wrote about Feld and his family for a business magazine.”
The Pottker case is still underway.
“In a separate suit,” Jones continued, “former Feld
employee Shan Sparshott won a $500,000 judgment in 2001 against Feld
Entertainment and Smith for illegally audio- and videotaping her in
her office and at home. The case was reversed on appeal on