Two years after Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman failed to prosecute the puppy mill operators featured on Oprah, DA Stedman refuses to prosecute PA dog breeders who sent sick and injured dogs to auction in Ohio.
On October 7, of 2009, volunteers from Main Line Animal Rescue, along with agents from the PSPCA and a veterinarian, traveled to Holmes County, Ohio and purchased twelve dogs at the Farmerstown Sale Barn in Baltic - one of Ohio's more notorious Amish dog auctions. Three hundred and eighty-four breeding dogs from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, were sent to Ohio and placed on the block. MLAR and the PSPCA picked out twelve dogs showing clear signs of abuse, purchased them, then transported them back to the Pennsylvania where they were examined, photographed, and treated by numerous veterinarians and specialists. Six commercial dog breeders from Lancaster County were later charged with animal cruelty. Justice looked as though it would prevail until Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, in a move that stunned animal welfare organizations and dog lovers throughout the Commonwealth, unexpectedly had all the charges dismissed.
What the residents of Lancaster County need to know about their District Attorney's handling of the case - keeping in mind, Craig Stedman has failed to successfully prosecute one puppy mill operator in the two years he's been your district attorney.*
1) Lancaster County DA Craig Stedman claimed he knew nothing of the investigation until he read about the case in the Philadelphia Inquirer on November 21, 2009. The truth is Craig Stedman was contacted by then PSPCA President Harrise Yaron six weeks earlier, days before the Ohio auction, to discuss the legality of what the PSPCA agents planned to do. He gave Mrs. Yaron the "thumbs up" to move forward. He knew what the PSPCA was doing every step of the investigation.
2) Two days after the dogs were brought back from Ohio, Harrise Yaron, PSPCA Board member Jodi Goldberg, and PSPCA agents met with Craig Stedman and ADA Daniel Dye to discuss the cases. Stedman himself suggests the PSPCA file summary charges as opposed to misdemeanor charges, and says directly to Harrise Yaron: "Go ahead, but you'll have to use your own lawyer." Stedman claims he did not give permission for the PSPCA to prosecute the cases using their own attorney. This is perhaps the biggest lie Stedman has told so far - and he has told it repeatedly, in an attempt to protect some of the worst puppy mill operators in Lancaster County.
3) Attorney Jeff Conrad representing the breeders in the case, calls these men and women the "cream of the crop." Kennel inspection (reports available online) tell a different story. Several of the breeders charged in the Ohio case have been warned by state inspectors for housing dogs exhibiting signs of poor health.
• Nathan Myer's April 2009 inspection report notes seven female dogs displaying signs of paw or leg injuries, as well as a Llasa with an eye injury and another dog who is unresponsive and lethargic. It is only after Myer is ordered by the state that he provides these dogs with veterinary care.
• John S. Fisher surrendered four dogs with questionable health to the Lancaster Humane League in 2007. In April of last year, Fisher was ordered by the state to have a Boston Terrier in his kennel seen by a vet. According to the report, the dog had been involved in a fight with another dog and was limping with lacerations on her front leg. The dog had been injured days before, but was treated only after Fisher was required to do so by the state.
• James Zimmerman's July inspection mentions a black Cocker Spaniel appearing to have an untreated cherry eye in its left eye. Oddly enough, one of the dogs purchased by the PSPCA at the Ohio auction three months later was a black Cocker Spaniel with an untreated cherry eye in its left eye from Zimmerman's kennels. If this is the same dog, then did state inspector Travis Hess fail to follow-up with Zimmerman after ordering him to have the dog seen by a vet within seventy-two hours back in July? Did the dog continue to suffer for another three months until finally being sent to auction in Ohio? Was the vet who signed off on the dog in July, the same vet who signed the dog's health certificate for the auction in Ohio?
Why was DA Craig Stedman so quick to drop the charges against breeders with well documented histories of mistreating or neglecting their dogs? If some of these people mistreated their dogs in the past, wouldn't this information strengthen the cases against several of the breeders charged?
4) Craig Stedman claims there wasn't enough evidence to support the charges, and yet in an email to PSPCA President Harrise Yaron he writes that he offered to provide PSPCA agents with warrants based on the evidence provided by the PSPCA and Main Line Animal Rescue. If the evidence was sufficient for a warrant to enter private properties and the breeders' kennels, then why wasn't it strong enough to prosecute them for animal cruelty? This hardly makes sense, Mr. Stedman.
5) The PSPCA asked former Chester County prosecutor and Supreme Court Justice William H. Lamb to prosecute the six breeders. When Craig Stedman found out that a former Supreme Court Justice was prosecuting the cases, MLAR believes that Stedman must have realized that he would not be able to control the outcome of the cases, and that the breeders would not be protected as they were in the past. Stedman sent letters to all the District Magistrates informing them that he had not given the PSPCA permission to prosecute the cases - which was not true, of course.
6) DA Craig Stedman dismissed the charges against the breeders without ever interviewing or speaking to any of our witnesses, the veterinary specialists who treated the dogs, or the MLAR volunteers who purchased dogs at the auction. Numerous phone calls were not returned; messages were left unanswered. One of the vets who treated the dogs and offered to testify is a leading canine dental specialist from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Paul Orsini described one poor dog's teeth as being broken off - multiple fractures with an infection spreading to the dog's facial bones. Another dog's teeth were so rotted, they were hollow. Food and water accumulating in its nasal cavity.
7) Both DA Stedman and the attorney for the breeders, "Jeff" Conrad (who are friends and worked together when Conrad worked for the same District Attorney's office), claim that there was little proof linking the dogs purchased at the auction with the breeders charged in the cases. Not true. Each of the twelve dogs brought back from Ohio had a tag around his or her neck. The number identified their Lancaster County breeder in the auction catalogue. MLAR and the PSPCA were also provided with the dogs' registration paperwork and/or interstate transport documentation identifying their respective breeders in Lancaster County.
8) Any concerns about the chain of evidence are also unfounded. Because MLAR used a private plane, several of the dogs arrived at the PSPCA in Philadelphia two hours after leaving the auction in Baltic, Ohio. The other dogs were driven back to the PSPCA - their agents driving straight through the night.
9) Stedman claims the breeders' attorney contacted his office to discuss their plans to send their dogs to Ohio prior to the auction. This is very hard to believe, considering breeding dogs from Pennsylvania's Amish Country have been going to auction in Ohio for years and no one has ever felt the need to contact the DA's Office. Why would they? Unless, they knew their dogs were in bad shape and were afraid that they might be prosecuted? They didn't need to worry about that - Craig Stedman has one of the worst records of any district attorney in Pennsylvania when it comes to prosecuting people who abuse animals. He has a long record of protecting the puppy mill operators of Lancaster County, rather than the poor dogs languishing in their kennels.
10) District Attorney Craig Stedman told Justice William H. Lamb that he was willing and determined to seriously examine the charges against the breeders - but only three days later Stedman told the agents with the PSPCA that he would not prosecute the cases. Without Stedman's help, the PSPCA had no choice but to withdraw the charges. Now Stedman claims the PSPCA decided to drop the charges without any pressure from his office - this is untrue. It was Stedman, and Stedman alone, who is responsible for failing to prosecute those individuals responsible for hurting the dogs rescued from the Ohio auction.* Both Elvin High and Ervin Zimmerman were charged before Craig Stedman became District Attorney.