Ex-USDA Lawyer Employed by Ringling

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3 min read

PETA is calling for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) inspector general following the departure of the agency’s former deputy general counsel, Kenneth Vail—the man who was tasked with enforcing animal protection regulations for the USDA and who has now taken a job with the Ringling Bros. circus, which is counted among the most egregious animal abusers in the country.

Yeah, that doesn’t seem shady at all, does it?

Whose Interests Was He Serving? Not Animals’

Before officially becoming Ringling’s paid protector, Vail served as the USDA’s lead legal counsel for animal welfare matters. Yet he repeatedly failed to take enforcement action against Ringling Bros.—despite a mountain of proof provided by PETA that exposed flagrant animal abuse and the concealment of evidence and even when the USDA’s own Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES) recommended seeking penalties.

Vail’s failures to seek enforcement against Ringling are many, including these:

  • Ignoring IES’ advice to pursue fines against Ringling, Vail took no action against Ringling after it allowed Clyde, a 2-year-old lion, to bake to death in a boxcar as the circus traveled through the Mojave Desert on a scorching July day.
  • Ringling killed Riccardo, an 8-month-old infant elephant, after he slipped from a pedestal onto which he’d been forced using ropes and a bullhook, breaking both hind legs, during a training exercise. Vail disregarded IES’ recommendation that his office seek a penalty for blatant violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), taking no enforcement action at all.
  • When Ringling’s head of elephant training revealed in federal court that the circus repeatedly lied to the USDA about Riccardo’s death—denying that Riccardo was being trained and claiming that he was just playing when he fell—Vail failed to reopen Riccardo’s case or pursue any action against Ringling.
  • Vail also declined to follow IES’ recommendation to seek a fine—or, indeed, to pursue action of any sort—against Ringling after a handler was caught on tape violently beating a young elephant with a bullhook while she was chained by two legs.

Now Hiring: Must Have Influence, No Principles

Unsurprisingly, Ringling, a company that abuses and has killed animals, is notorious for its complete lack of scruples when it comes to making sure that it gets its way, including procuring the services of well-connected Washington insiders to sway their former colleagues and hiring an ex-CIA agent to intimidate critics and spy on and steal from PETA.

It’s not surprising that Ringling would like Vail, who certainly seems to have given the circus special treatment for years during his government tenure. But even for such a shameless and unscrupulous enterprise as Ringling, the cozy deal to formally hire Vail to be the circus’s “Animal Welfare Act compliance officer” raises the specter of impropriety. That’s why PETA is urging the USDA’s inspector general to investigate whether Vail has violated (or is currently violating) any federal conflict-of-interest laws.

As a result of PETA’s relentless pressure on the USDA to take action in behalf of these animals, Ringling was recently forced to pay the largest penalty for AWA violations in circus historyafter Vail left the USDA. While this was an important step, the government must now take action to confiscate the arthritic elephants forced by Ringling to travel up to 50 weeks a year in filthy, poorly ventilated boxcars and to perform painful, unnatural tricks.

What You Can Do

Never buy a ticket for Ringling Bros. or any other circus that uses animals, and please join PETA in asking the USDA to confiscate the lame elephants suffering under Ringling’s domination immediately.

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