Metro-East News

Horse owners and trainers file lawsuit against horsemen’s group

Horse owners and trainers who are members of a Collinsville-based horsemen’s group have filed a lawsuit against the organization’s president and executive director alleging secretive operations and for withholding financial records.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 11 in Madison County Circuit Court, alleges that the Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protection Association, its president, John Wainwright, and executive director, Lanny Brooks, has denied the 22 plaintiffs named in the suit “an adequate accounting of the association’s funds in recent years.”

The suit includes a copy of a letter written by Brooks in February 2010 that mentions $3.2 million that the association was holding in an account for “impact fees legislation.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Brooks has told members they must contribute to RACE, a nonprofit organization that supports retired race horses.

The suit seeks an audit of the horsemen’s group. The plaintiffs also are asking that both Wainwright and Brooks be removed from office for breaching their fiduciary responsibilities.

Brooks called the allegations “totally 100 percent untrue.”

“When the lawsuit litigation plays out, that will be evident in the end,” he said. “It will vindicate us and show what the real truth is. There are a lot of false allegations.”

The association derives most of its income from fees paid by the track, in this case Fairmount Park near Collinsville.

Plaintiffs’ attorney James Craney said his clients are seeking transparency within the organization and believe changes in leadership and operations are needed.

“These horsemen and women have made every attempt to resolve this matter,” Craney said. “Unfortunately, they were forced into court as the last resort to secure financial transparency, accountability and meaningful participation in the association’s governance.”

Defense attorney Wayne Skigen said some of the complaints raised in the suit are in the process of being addressed. He also said an audit of the horsemen’s group was being planned before the suit was filed.

“The substance of the allegations will be met head on, and I believe refuted, if the case continues in litigation,” Skigen said “But I also think that the so-called transparency disclosure issue that (the plaintiffs) purport to desire has been available and will be available in the coming weeks. ... So I think in time as we proceed, it will be clear that the allegations and suspicions reflected in the lawsuit are not going to be borne out.”

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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