ARK Animal Rescue Saves Abandoned Dogs & Cats
DeLand FL Staff and Cops Raid ARK 
 Steal Animals & Medicines
 

Subtitle

City Officials Dangerously Out of Control. Spent over $20,000 of taxpayer money. Rather than getting FIRED they were REWARDED and VOTED BACK INTO OFFICE. DeLand Florida City Hall is CORRUPT.

Published by DeLandCPR - Citizens for Public Responsibility

THE LINEUP - “DISTINGUISHED” PAID DELAND OFFICIALS

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”  – Adolf Hitler

DeLandCPR 

Research available on request

Introduction

“For such is the malice of wicked men, the Devil’s instruments...

that they cannot suffer anything...to proceed and prosper....” 

- Sir Anthony Parkhurst, Principall Navigations, 1589


The militarization and brutality of the police force in America is escalating. Cops are hurting, even killing innocent people. Each week new stories surface. But police do not act alone; they are supported by their local government. The following brutal account exemplifies, in minute detail, what a corrupt police force and immoral city staff can and will do when they believe they have ultimate power.

     The Greyhound bus rolled out of DeLand and it isn’t returning unless the city builds Greyhound a terminal office; its departure a loss for residents of West Volusia. Greyhound waited patiently then gave up as it took DeLand over a decade to get its act together to construct the “Intermodal Transportation System” – an exaggerated name for an extravagant project of concrete, a metal canopy, and restroom.

     The original project was to consist of Greyhound, Votran, a bike shop, café, and more. Completed February 7, 2014, the city lacked funds to construct the Greyhound office. So now the Two Million Dollar Boondoggle, an outrageous waste of public funds, is used but a few times daily for the county’s Votran bus.

     Now backtrack to 2012. If a governmental entity desires private property for public use it has four options: (1) Offer to purchase the property; (2) Invoke eminent domain but compensate the owner at fair market value; (3) Use military force to raid and destroy the property owners’ business and good name, bankrupt the business, then sweep in to purchase the property at a nominal price when it goes into foreclosure. However there is a more insidious tactic to obtain personal property to increase city coffers; a scheme used consistently and without scruples by police and governmental entities: (4) Arrest the property owner for criminal activity in order to invoke a law unfamiliar to the general public; a law that brings millions to city hall - “The Civil Asset Forfeiture Law.”[1] Was this the City of DeLand’s “Perfect Plan” for obtaining a Greyhound office?

     For five months prior to the city’s illicit raid on ARK’s property November 2012, city staff, their attorney, and police orchestrated a conspiracy of harassment, false accusations, and doctored videos in an attempt to destroy ARK, one of the most successful animal rescue organizations in Florida. In fact, ARK and the city were partnered to rescue animals after ARK’s founder pressed the city to go “No Kill” three years earlier.

     After the raid city officials and their attorney lied in court against ARK. Six months after the raid, appropriately April Fool’s Day, city staff were emailing each other regarding the ownership of ARK’s property. When they discovered ARK no longer owned it they set their sights to harass FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital, the new owner. Were they that desperate for the land? Their screams across the wire were unknown to taxpayers’ footing the bill until public record requests indicated city staffers’ “concern.”

     Ten months after the raid, still unable to justify why they raided ARK and stole property worth over $10,000, city staff attempted to negotiate with the state’s attorney to indict ARK’s president for animal cruelty. The city needed ARK’s building to enhance its bus station by enticing back into town the big name - Greyhound. City employees, those inside the beltway, saw and heard “secret meetings,” hushed discussions with staff, attorney, the mayor, and police chief. A former secretary told ARK volunteers, “You have no idea what happens here; no one does.”[2] Others didn’t come forward until long after the raid, too frightened to make a public statement.[3] After all, if the city can destroy a successful non-profit and its volunteers, steal their property, and get away with it, imagine what it could do to city employees in need of a job?

     For months the state’s attorney repeatedly asked the city attorney, Darren Elkind, for proof ARK was abusing animals. And repeatedly Elkind promised evidence was forthcoming. Elkind lied, failing miserably because DeLand never had proof of animal cruelty. And since DeLand has no Code of Ethics there was no need to be honest, to be ethical.

     Save for City Hall’s Staff, Commissioners, and Cops, DeLand is a unique community, culturally rich due to the city’s museums, artists, festivals, shops, churches, schools, restaurants and Stetson University’s Faculty. For over a century residents have protected the “small town” atmosphere harkening back to the 1880s when DeLand was known as Persimmon Hollow.

     But things are changing as City Hall sells DeLand’s soul to developers and residents wonder whose palms are being greased. Even the mayor for over a decade, Bob Apgar, has suspicious real estate dealings with the city manager, Michael Pleus, information purged from the tax records.[4] And it’s the same with the police chief and assistant, Ridgeway and Batten – real estate dealings also purged from tax records.[5] City commissioners are approving the demolition of historic structures in town and on Stetson’s campus at the Stetson administration’s request, eradicating DeLand’s heritage for future generations.

     Old growth trees are cut, replaced with quick growth myrtles. DeLand has one of the highest tax rates in Florida as Stetson escalates its land grab causing taxpayers to be hit with higher tax rates. Colossal downtown construction encouraged and approved by city staff will increase traffic density to an unprecedented and unmanageable volume.

     DeLand’s dark side, its underbelly, is rarely scratched and seldom revealed. The story told here exposes an undercurrent of corruption and abuse of power; of persecution for those who don’t step in line with city hall; of a city hall and police department with racist, sexist, moralistic undertones, and mean spirited employees. It is a town where public officials attempt to annihilate those who dare push back against the power brokers; where they destroy the credibility of new faces running for public office.

     DeLand is a town that fights small businesses and new ideas and where city hall has its talons tightly entwined with the non-profit Main Street DeLand Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and the local newspaper, the West Volusia Beacon; the interconnectedness alarming. The Beacon’s owner received public funds for potentially private use and the city manager’s wife is employed by the paper.[6] Dig deep and be surprised at what is uncovered.

     Good leadership is lost as one city employee after another leaves for more serene fields, reasons not made public as they slip quietly away. People with integrity don’t want to work in the type of environment rampant at city hall; a workplace dominated by power hungry overbearing white males.[7]

     DeLand has serious problems. People are afraid to speak out. When a successful downtown commercial real estate broker confided in Maggi Hall, ARK’s President, with his and others’ litany of complaints against DeLand’s Staff, Hall questioned, “Why don’t you do something about it? City personnel are OUR employees. We pay their salaries.”[8] His perceptive response, “They don’t see it that way. Look at what happened to you and ARK.”[9] 

     Yes, let’s look now at what happened to DeLand’s partnership with ARK and a respected community leader. November 8, 2012 the desperation of city officials surfaced. Using taxpayers’ money, city personnel set out to destroy ARK; a treachery costing taxpayers over $20,000,[10] the theft of $11,000 in private property, and a determination by staff to put ARK’s President Maggi Hall, behind bars.

     As you read remember the threat of city attorney Darren Elkind to a downtown merchant after the raid: “If you ever harbor a sex offender you’ll get into trouble, too.” [11]

     The truth didn’t matter to Elkind. For over nine months the city attempted to prove ARK “harbored a sex offender” and abused animals even though the city was bringing its animals to ARK and city staff and Hall were working together. Was that how frantic the city was to acquire ARK’s property as staff grasped at one accusation after another to possibly “cash in” on the Civil Asset Forfeiture Law?

     City employees kept a book (L) on ARK,[12] placed a bull’s eye squarely on Hall’s back; didn’t tell ARK’s Board they gathered unproven complaints from a handful of fired volunteers; never showed the board the few mostly anonymous complaints “coincidentally” arriving within days of each other.

     ARK wasn’t harboring a sex offender on the main thoroughfare through downtown DeLand three blocks from the police station. Why hide a person legally working at ARK who was unjustly accused 20 years earlier? In fact, as ARK’s Board knew he would be, the sex offender (not predator) was removed from Florida’s Sex Offender Registry a month after the Raid.[13]

     ARK certainly wasn’t abusing animals either! In fact to accuse ARK of abusing animals was to indict ARK’s reputable volunteers, veterinary hospitals, and organizations working with ARK: Audubon Society, Halifax Humane Society, Lake, Polk, Putnam, and Orange County Animal Services, PetCo, Redinger Clinic, Altamonte, and FloridaWild Veterinary Hospitals.

     ARK volunteers were Stetson students, lawyers, teachers, white and blue collar workers, and dozens of community service people the Court ordered to work off their redemption by contributing to society rather than vegetating in cells at the taxpayers’ expense. Indeed, ARK was not only saving animals, it was saving people. In fact, ARK established the first internship with college credit in Florida between an animal rescue group and a university – Stetson – encouraging students to become veterinarians.

     Unable to prove ARK was harboring a sex offender, city staffers shifted to animal cruelty. Unable to prove cruelty, so desperate for land, they descended on ARK with horrific force – determined to get that property no matter what.

     Why did the city raid ARK asked those who worked in the organization, financially supported it, or adopted from ARK? The glaring truth hit many the day of the raid but as the months passed with continued “secret” emails between city officials attempting to influence the state’s attorney to indict Hall, the theory surfaced in glaring prominence: DeLand City Hall was expanding its talons to grab ARK’s property and possibly that of its neighbor, FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital.

     The bizarre conspiracy was revealed over a year after the raid when concerned citizens formed DeLandCPR – Citizens for Public Responsibility and began requesting documents invoking the Florida Sunshine Law.[14] Compare CPR’s six books (L) with the city’s one white book.

     From initial research it appeared the RAID had everything to do with self-righteous moralistic zealots determined to “clean house” in downtown DeLand; every action the clandestine cadre took well documented.

     However after the raid and the public hearing subsequent actions by City Manager Pleus, Attorney Darren Elkind, and Police Chief Bill Ridgeway, with support from top city staff, made DeLandCPR realize the raid had everything to do with gaining ownership of the property through the Civil Asset Forfeiture Law.

     ARK, working in concert with DeLand, was one of the most successful animal rescue groups in Florida. Yet ARK’s President, Maggi Hall, falsely and without proof was accused of “Unnecessary and intentional suffering by neglect, starvation and failure to provide water and medical attention resulting in animal deaths.”[15] As will be revealed in the following pages there was absolutely no truth to this outrageous allegation. But city staff had to make their attempted confiscation of the property “appear” as if ARK was acting illegally, thus legitimizing the raid and putting Hall behind bars in order to invoke the Civil Asset Forfeiture Law.

     This shocking story is filled with intrigue and deception, lies and theft. The actions of city staff bespeak vindictive, violent, and alarming behavior as they waged war against ARK and Hall. Even in preparation for the hearing after the raid city attorney Darren Elkind, during discovery when attorneys for both sides were required by law to share “evidence,” illegally kept two videotapes from ARK’s attorney in order to surprise his opponents in court with “manufactured visual proof” against ARK.

     At the hearing November 19, 2012 to determine the fate of the animals, Elkind brought first to the witness stand Detective Yohana Sanchez who had sent a threat through an ARK volunteer to Hall: “Tell Maggi Hall she’s going to get in trouble for harboring a sex offender.”[16] Determined to prove her warning, the first statement Sanchez uttered on the stand was, “A sex offender is living at ARK.” Judge Green looked at Elkind with disdain asking, “What does that have to do with anything?” and ordered Sanchez’s statement struck from the record.[17]

     When Sanchez interviewed the sex offender’s wife a few weeks prior to the raid, Sanchez told Mrs. Johnson, “I have an email from Maggi Hall saying she got Daniel Johnson to register as a transient.” Sanchez also told her Hall called the Johnsons ARK’s slaves.[18] When a copy of the email was requested through the Sunshine Law the city clerk stated, “No record found.[19] In other words, Sanchez was lying on the witness stand and Elkind knew it.

     Elkind’s next witness, Dog Catcher Michelle Realander, narrated her video of police descending on ARK. Amazingly, the video showed the volunteers caring for the animals. Realander stated under oath to ARK’s attorney Tanner Andrews that she didn’t believe the animals should be confiscated and had placed her opinion in writing to city officials. City officials ignored her opinion.

     Elkind’s next three witnesses, veterinarians, were biased, paid by the city for animal care. With multiple veterinarians in DeLand, all with more impressive resumes, the city chose Val-U-Vet and DeLand Animal Hospital. Val-U-Vet employee Erin Gray’s “proof of animal cruelty” exploded on the wide screen. Kept secret illegally from ARK’s attorney, it depicted scenes taken more than 48 hours after the last time ARK volunteers were allowed to clean kennels and litter boxes or feed, water, and walk the animals.

     In other words, the city’s PROOF of animal cruelty was an “after-the-fact” manufactured video where animals languished in cages without fresh food, water, or medications, and where they wet their beds and defecated in their food bowls because they weren’t allowed out!!

     After Hall began her testimony Darren Elkind tricked her off the stand with the promise of a partnership between ARK and the city. There was no way Elkind wanted Judge Green to see the photographs ARK’s attorney obtained after the raid showing the city’s damage and lack of care for the animals. After a private meeting between the attorneys and Hall, Elkind told Judge Green “We’ve reached an agreement whereby they [ARK] will forfeit the cats to the City.... And lastly that the City and ARK will work together on a go forward-we have not sought in this petition or in court today to stop the work of ARK, but that we will meet with the ARK representatives to come up with a game plan on a go-forward basis....”[20]

     Elkind’s remarks before Judge Green were false on three counts: (1) Elkind denied ARK the return of its property, both dogs and cats, thus violating the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution; the illegal confiscation of ARK’s animals and medicines worth more than $11,000; (2) Though Elkind stated, “...ARK...and the City...will get together” the day after the hearing Elkind, Manager Pleus, Assistant Manager Arrington, Chief Ridgeway, and Building Official Matt Adair, Ex-Marine, renewed the city’s war against ARK and Hall; and (3) Elkind said “...I don’t think I need to...[read the statement]. She [Hall] wants it to the press....” Hall never said she wanted a statement to the press. Elkind told Hall she could say anything she wanted to the press to save face but Hall didn’t need to save face; she and ARK had done nothing wrong. Because the city knew it couldn’t prove its case it wanted Hall off that stand.

     As this story unfolds the truth surfaces: The city failed at PLAN A: Have the state’s attorney indict Hall on charges of “harboring a sex offender.”[21] Arresting Hall would assure the immediate deterioration of ARK and the confiscation of its valuable property. When PLAN A failed PLAN B was activated: Have the state’s attorney indict Hall on charges of “animal cruelty.”[22] Again Hall’s arrest would assure the failure of ARK and its inability to pay its mortgage and strengthen the ability to use the Civil Asset Forfeiture Law.

     For ten months after the hearing when Darren Elkind lied in Court by stating to Judge Green that the city and ARK would “work together,” the clandestine scheme continued. Elkind and his misogynistic white male dominated city hall weren’t about to cooperate with ARK. Not only did he lie in court and break his promise, he and city hall bullies denied ARK and Hall their rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

     City officials and police “thugs” wanted Hall arrested and ARK destroyed. They worked diligently toward that for months after the city’s false agreement with ARK. Some of their bizarre statements follow:

     Deputy Chief Randel Henderson to the West Volusia Beacon: We had a rescue group take possession of an estimated 40 cats. We were jokingly calling the officers corralling the cats “cat wranglers.” I would love to see the video.[23]

     Attorney Elkind to Manager Pleus and Chief Ridgeway: She only makes herself look crazier when she sends this stuff out. Remember that she was in the paper prior to the hearing stating that she would get all of the animals back.[24] (This was in response to Hall emailing the city her disgust over its actions.)

     Attorney Elkind to City Staff: You have to let me do the following – I want to take a still picture of this dog in the cage standing in its own urine, and put it next to this picture as the dog is today. Below it will be a note showing how the city saved this dog and how well it is now doing. Since I don’t charge to read her crazy emails, I won’t charge for this of course.

     Chief Ridgeway to Police regarding Elkind’s email: Don’t disseminate further but I thought it was clever.[25] (When documents and photos were requested by DeLandCPR to substantiate Elkind’s claim of a dog standing in urine, Elkind emailed the city clerk, “Read the email, it states that ‘I want to take a still picture....’ This was never done, it was never done.)”[26] (If never done why email staff? He said he had a photo. Where is it?)

     Elkind to State Attorney Amy Walker: Ms. Hall complains about everything.[27] (This was Elkind’s response to Walker requesting a copy of the email where Hall accused the city of harassment.)

     After the raid numerous blogs prevailed throughout the month; some horrifying and insulting directed at Hall as well as her daughter, Dr. Erin Holder, owner of FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital. The majority of the vicious remarks were anonymous as cowards and liars hid behind their anonymity. Numerous supportive statements were generally signed.

By January 2013 Hall and ARK’s attorney, Tanner Andrews, were hoping the City of DeLand would file suit against Hall for animal cruelty. In Andrews’ words:

     The worse problem is that the trial would be a huge humiliation for the City because ARK would surely call up [a] Realander, to explain what changed [b] Sanchez, to explain about her dishonest statements [c] Henderson, to show that they knew that raid was improper [d] the vets, to show that City provided lesser standard of care than ARK [e] Thomas, to show nepotistic assignment of critters to West Volusia Humane [f] Elkind

for two or three kinds of impeachment.[28]

     Unknown to Hall or her attorney, the city continued its espionage only to come up empty handed. There’s no way to calculate the complete cost to the taxpayers. DeLand Animal Hospital was paid $4,140 yet bragged on Facebook that it took care of the animals for free! Darren Elkind scored big coming in at over $7,000.[29]

     Eleven months after the raid, October 1, 2013, the State of Florida announced: “...No information or intent to prosecute with respect to a felony cruelty to animals against Margaret S. Hall.”[30]

     The City of DeLand failed in its attempt to prosecute Hall though the reputations of both ARK and Hall were forever tarnished. The following detailed account, taking almost two years to investigate, provides the frightening truth: The City of DeLand conspired against ARK’s constitutional rights and the rights of its founder. Mafia-style tactics reign in DeLand and in truth, are escalating due to the silence of those being tormented.

     Support for ARK was strong. Hundreds of dollars were donated with support letters mailed to the city and ARK. Those involved in the conspiracy against ARK and Hall were: City Staff - Manager Michael Pleus, Assistant Manager Dale Arrington, Building Inspector Matt Adair, Code Enforcer Mark Ellison, Dog Catchers Michelle Realander and Gary Thomas, attorney Darren Elkind; Police – Chief Bill Ridgeway, Deputy Chief Randel Henderson, Deputy Chief Gary Batten, Officers Greg McWhorter, T.J. Petrella, Juan Millan, Yohana Sanchez, Justin Ferrari, Christopher Jusick; Commissioners – Charles Paiva, Bob Apgar, Leigh Matusick, Vonzelle Johnson, Phil Martin.

     Fired volunteers and anonymous critics were: Janice Spencer and Terri Springer (visited three times and fired for refusal to follow protocol; Journey’s End director warned Hall they were trouble), Jo Gilmartin claiming to be a dog trainer was fired for insubordination after almost getting an ARK dog killed. Gilmartin was so desperate to “get back” at Hall she sent numerous pieces of “evidence” to police; Carolyn of healinghand4pets.com (refused to give last name, no connection to ARK); Lisa Stern (no ARK connection); Julie Beard (former ARK Executive Director encouraged to resign due to abusive language to volunteers); and Karen Clark (more on her later).[31] These people caused ARK and Hall to have their names smeared across the internet, YouTube, and the media, their reputations blemished. The city’s unlawful confiscation of private property, animals, and medicines totaled more than $10,000 in losses for ARK.

     Hall’s prophetic comment to Assistant Manager Dale Arrington several weeks prior to the raid came true. “I think there’s a conspiracy against ARK” to which Arrington replied, “Maggi, I think you may be right.” [32]

     Small towns have multiple connective layers. As the breadth and scope of the scandalous story of intimidation unfolds, the conspiracy is revealed. City staff and ARK critics, in their own words and by their actions, indict themselves. Readers should question, “Didn’t Elkind, the police, and city staffers have more important things to do than generate a huge volume of emails about Maggi Hall?”

     DeLand’s Value’s Statement promises “Pride, Respect, Integrity, Courtesy, Excellence.” None were practiced with ARK. Since the City has no Code of Ethics why follow its Value’s Statement?


[1] Blumner, R. E., “Police too addicted to lure of easy money,” St. Petersburg Times, p. 7D, 8.17.03

[2] She remains anonymous for fear of job security elsewhere and for her life. 2.12.13

[3] An anonymous email from a city employee to M. Hall, 4.2.14

[4] Documents obtained through an attorney, 3.12.14

[5] Conversation with Pat Johnson, 4.2.14

[6] Information from Scott Price, DeLand CRA member, 1.17.15

[7] Former female employees who fled to other positions or early retirement; anonymous fearing retaliation, 3.1.14

[8] M. Hall to CPR committee, 9.3.13

[9] Remains anonymous fearing retaliation

[10] Documents obtained from city through public record request, 2.12.13

[11] Remains anonymous fearing retaliation

[12] The White Book against ARK and Maggi Hall maintained by the City of DeLand Police Department, 2012-2013

[13] Letter from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to Daniel Johnson, 12.21.12

[14] DeLand CPR’s six books filled with documents obtained through the Florida Sunshine Law, 2013-2014

[15] 7th Judicial Circuit 707 Charging Affidavit-Volusia, Officer Juan Millan, 11.30.12

[16] Interview with Jennifer Johnson, 10.23.12

[17] Case No 2012 23623 CONS in the County Court, Seventh Judicial Circuit, in and for Volusia County FL, 11.19.12

[18] Taped interview with Jennifer Johnson, 10.23.12

[19] Email from city clerk to Hall, 6.6.14

[20] Case No 2012 23623 CONS in the County Court, Seventh Judicial Circuit, in and for Volusia County FL, 11.19.12

[21] 7th Judicial Circuit 707 Charging Affidavit-Volusia, Detective Yohana Sanchez, 9.5.12

[22] 7th Judicial Circuit 707 Charging Affidavit-Volusia, Officer Juan Millan, 11.30.12

[23] “Court date set to decide fate of animals seized from DeLand shelter,” West Volusia Beacon, 11.12.12

[24] Email from Elkind to Ridgeway copied to Batten and McWhorter, 11.26.12

[25] Email from Elkind to city staff and Ridgeway’s reply, 12.13.12

[26] Public record request from Hall to city clerk and Elkind’s response, 2.7.14

[27] Email from Elkind to Walker, 2.13.13

[28] Email from Andrews to Hall, 1.4.13

[29] Expense spreadsheet for raid through 11.19.12, City of DeLand, 11.20.12

[30] State of Florida v. Margaret S Hall, 10.1.13

[31] Documents obtained from the city and ARK, 1.14.14

[32] Phone conversation overheard by A. Dendinger , Shreveport LA, 10.26.12