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Federal suit intensifies horse-racing dispute

April 19, 2012
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Former car dealer Ed Martin Jr. has raised the stakes in his ongoing feud with the Indiana Horse Racing Commission by filing another lawsuit against the agency and its top officials.

Martin’s federal complaint alleges that the IHRC violated his civil rights and trespassed on his Florida thoroughbred farm during a so-called “investigation” of him. The suit also names IHRC Executive Director Joe Gorajec, Director of Security Terry Richwine and board Chairwoman Sarah McNaught, among others.

It’s the second time Martin, who helped create the state’s horse-racing industry, has taken to the courts in an attempt to resolve his disputes with the IHRC. In September, he filed a lawsuit still pending in Marion Superior Court seeking to overturn his ban from state horse tracks.

The IHRC barred Martin in November 2010 after he refused to obtain a horse-racing license. Martin alleges the ban is retaliation for his criticism of the commission, and especially of Gorajec.

Before being banned, Martin had criticized Gorajec’s handling of various industry issues, and Gorajec launched an investigation into alleged neglect at Martin’s thoroughbred farm in Florida that he no longer operates.

Martin’s latest suit, filed April 9 in federal court in Indianapolis, seeks $700,000 in damages on each of several charges against the IHRC for wrongfully initiating the probe that Martin alleges it had no authority to conduct.

Reached by phone, Martin declined to comment on his complaint, which he filed without an attorney.

“The lawsuit is baseless, totally without merit,” Gorajec said in a prepared statement. “The Indiana State Police and the Inspector General, which conducted an investigation of the horse racing commission, looked into the same issues [Martin alleges] and found absolutely no wrongdoing by the commission or anyone on the commission staff.”

Owners, trainers and others working at tracks have to be licensed, but breeders don’t.

Martin has been licensed as an owner in the past, but he hasn’t raced any horses in Indiana lately. He split time between Florida and Indiana, focusing on breeding and serving as executive director of the Indiana Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

The commission said Martin should have obtained a license because he worked for the trade group, which received financial support from the commission and conducted its business at the track.

Martin—known locally for his chain of car dealerships, which he sold to his sisters in 2006—has a long history in Indiana horse racing. He was a member of the racing commission from 1996 to 2001, and he co-founded the ITOBA thoroughbred trade group.

In March 2009, he was elected a director of the association and was hired as its executive director in October of the same year, according to his suit.

Martin’s troubles with the IHRC started during his time as a director, when he accused the commission of allowing track owners to commingle purse winnings with their general operating funds.

The relationship further deteriorated during the 2010 legislative session, when Martin successfully lobbied against a bill supported by the IHRC that would have eliminated a “breed development program,” according to the suit.

Martin alleges that the IHRC then instructed him to apply for the license, which he never did.

In retaliation, the IHRC launched its investigation into Martin’s thoroughbred farm in Florida, alleging that he was abusing and neglecting his horses, the complaint said.

Martin accuses the IHRC of trespassing on the property without his consent or a warrant.

Martin said in the suit that the Horse Protection Association of Florida exonerated him of any alleged abuse after conducting its own independent investigation.

But Martin alleges in his complaint that the IHRC, in an attempt to further threaten and intimidate him, has never closed its investigation or released any records of the probe.

Phone calls to both the IHRC and its attorney seeking comment on Martin’s suit were not returned.

Martin was terminated as ITOBA’s executive director in November 2010 after the IHRC cut off funding to the association “in an effort to inflict additional damage, threats, and intimidation” on him, Martin said in his suit.

He also alleges that he’s suffered economic loss, loss of business, damage to his reputation and emotion and mental suffering as a result of the firing.

 

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