Was GBHS Complicit In Stonewalling Cavalier “Whistleblowers”?
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 6, 2018
“Yall need to sue the daylights out of this woman,” wrote Allison Black Cornelius to Birmingham, Alabama attorney/dog rescuer Angie Ingram on February 8, 2015. At the time, Ms. Cornelius was the newly installed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society (“GBHS”). She had been GBHS’s Interim Executive Manager from September 2014 through January 2015.
“This woman” was a demeaning reference to Heather Halldin, a Pennsylvania resident and member of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, USA. Halldin was part of a group of women who “blew the whistle” on Angie Ingram and her Birmingham group of dog “rescuers” in the aftermath of a November 22, 2014 “rescue” operation that was conducted at Southwest Auctions in Wheaton, Missouri.
Heather Halldin had emailed GBHS officials one hour earlier to report allegations of financial improprieties in connection with pre-auction fundraising activities conducted by Brittney Wilk and Lisa Thompson, who were the Alabama coordinators for Cavalier Rescue USA when the Missouri “rescue” operation occurred. Halldin also questioned Angie Ingram’s role in the “rescue”, as she was a Cavalier Rescue USA volunteer and the dogs at the auction were purchased in her name.
Halldin stated that the mission of Wilk, Thompson, and Ingram, as agents of Cavalier Rescue USA, was to “collect and hand over all of the dogs they obtained at the auction – no matter by what means – to Cavalier Rescue USA.” Halldin alleged that, “Brittney Wilk and her friend members of the Cavalier Club of Birmingham have kept those dogs for themselves.”
Halldin requested an “accounting” for the “people who poured out their hearts, and wallets, to support [Wilk, Thompson, and Ingram]” and an explanation of “what is being done to correct the situation.” She ended her email by asking the GBHS these questions:
“Are you willing to be associated with these people? Because their behavior tarnished every institution with whom they associate. These people used YOUR truck to take these dogs from the auction to Birmingham – posted pictures of your truck. Won awards for their activities. Is the entire community seriously going to condone, reward, or even ignore this behavior?”
Resistance To Transparency, Coupled With Bullying
Instead of receiving an “accounting” and explanation of “what is being done to correct the situation,” Halldin and fellow “whistleblowers” were met with a coordinated campaign of resistance to transparency regarding the Birmingham Cavalier rescue group’s operations, post-auction foster care, Cavalier adoption program, and ownership information on the Cavaliers that were “saved” at the auction. This resistance was coupled with bullying legal maneuvers by Angie Ingram's rescue group.
On February 20, 2015, Angie Ingram sent a “Cease and Desist” letter to Heather Halldin and fellow Cavalier lovers Cathy Moon a/k/a Cathy S. Hoffman, Karen Pearsall Orange (a Florida resident who had raised the same accountability concerns in a January 23, 2015 email to AL.com news reporter Joey Kennedy, to no avail), Liz Moe a/k/a Elizabeth M. Dickens (Ohio), Nancy Ann Friedman (Michigan), and Lisa Swoboda (California). Speaking for Brittney Wilk, Lisa Thompson, Christina Carnes, Amanda “Mandy” Johnson, Kara Ingram, Jasmine Lawson, Debbie Dame, and herself, Angie Ingram demanded that these “whistleblowers” stop “making false and defamatory statements regarding each of us and any ongoing matters regarding the rescue of the auction dogs in November 2014 and any events surrounding its outcome.”
Ingram reminded the recipients of her ”Cease and Desist” letter that she is a debt collection attorney. “Thus, I have the ability to pursue legal action against you and the knowledge as to how to collect on a judgment once it is obtained,” said Ingram.
On March 17, 2015, Ingram sent a “Cease and Desist” letter to Peggy Kenney a/k/a Peggy Leverso, a Massachusetts resident who raised similar concerns.
On April 8, 2015, Angie Ingram filed a "defamation" lawsuit on behalf of Wilk, Thompson, Carnes, Johnson, Lawson, Kara Ingram, and herself against Orange, Moon, Halldin, Moe, Friedman, and Swoboda in the Jefferson County, Alabama Circuit Court. Ingram sued Heather Halldin even though Halldin posted a March 27, 2015 retraction of a “stray” comment she made on a “Beware Cavalier Rescue of Alabama” Facebook page on February 15, 2015. Halldin had also retracted some of the statements she made in her February 8, 2015 email to GBHS.
On April 13, 2015, the plaintiffs added Peggy Kenny as a defendant to the "defamation" lawsuit. Later on, they added Shelby County, Alabama resident Beth Reed to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is still pending in court.
The Allison Black Cornelius Affidavit
On July 10, 2015, Allison Black Cornelius gave an affidavit to the plaintiffs, which was filed on the same day in their “defamation” lawsuit. The affidavit confirmed the following facts:
1. Lisa Thompson and Brittney Wilk asked GBHS to assist with transporting dogs that were purchased at the Missouri auction back to Birmingham. GBHS agreed to provide its TARA transport RV and two specially trained staff members for the “rescue” mission.
2. GBHS staffers attended the auction so they could see the dogs beforehand and witness the events. GBHS also met and conferred with Angie Ingram, Kara Ingram, and Christina Carnes, who comprised the bidding team for the Ingram’s group of rescuers.
3. Cornelius acknowledged receiving Heather Halldin’s February 8, 2015 email requesting an “accounting” and explanation of what was being done to correct the situation she had described in her email. Cornelius said she was at the auction and was “fully aware of how much money was spent at the auction for the dogs.” She also stated: “Although I did not request one, I was given a complete accounting of all donations and how it was spent.”
4. Cornelius understood that “Lisa Thompson, Brittney Wilk, and Angie Ingram were raising funds in their individual names and they were not acting as representatives of Cavalier Rescue USA, a nonprofit organization.” She stated that the “accounting they provided me was fully transparent as to how the funds were spent.”
5. Finally, Cornelius stated that she had known Lisa Thompson, Brittney Wilk, and Mandy Johnson for a number of years. “I know their character to be above reproach”, she said.
Instead of providing the “accounting” and explanation sought by Heather Halldin in her February 8, 2015 email to GBHS, Allison Black Cornelius encouraged Angie Ingram “to sue the daylights out of this woman.” This is exactly what Ingram did -- for more than three years.
The Truth Finally Emerges
On February 6, 2017, the plaintiffs in Angie Ingram’s “defamation’ lawsuit admitted in a court filing that: (a) Christina Carnes and Angie Ingram took ownership of two “rescued” Cavalier King Charles Spaniels that were purchased at the auction for $24,200.00 using GoFundMe donor money, (b) Jasmine Lawson took ownership of one Cavalier that was purchased for $4,500.00 using donor money, (c) Mandy Johnson took ownership of a Cavalier named Gideon that was purchased for $4,300.00 using donor money; and (d) Brittney Wilk took ownership of a Cavalier named Happy Go Lucky that was purchased for $3,750.00 using donor money.
Brittney Wilk and Lisa Thompson made the decision to adopt the two $24,200.00 Cavaliers to Angie Ingram and Christina Carnes. Wilk and Thompson also made the decision to adopt one of the $4,500.00 Cavaliers to Jasmine Lawson. Angie Ingram made the decision to adopt Gideon to Mandy Johnson. Lisa Thompson adopted Happy Go Lucky to Brittney Wilk.
Deposition testimony in the case establishes that Wilk, Thompson, and Ingram were acting as Cavalier Rescue USA coordinators and volunteers prior to, during, and after the Missouri auction. They only disassociated themselves from Cavalier Rescue USA after questions were raised in December 2014 about the “insider” adoption transactions.
Finally, Angie Ingram and her six Birmingham-area Cavalier “rescuers” contributed only $290.00 in cash, collectively, to the $268,000.00 GoFundMe account established for the Missouri "rescue" mission. Additionally, they only paid $1,200.00 in adoption fees for the right to own five Cavaliers that cost $36,750.00 at the auction.
Stay tuned for more shocking developments in this unfolding story.
PHOTO: Allison Black Cornelius, President and CEO of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.