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Animal Rights Financing–Making Dollars

By Myles Higgins
Thursday, April 13, 2006

Nothing stirs the ire of animal rights groups like mentioning their fund raising activities. In past articles I've examined the finances of some of these organizations, including my favorite Shepherd Paul Watson, leader of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  It's an organization that claims one of the reasons it is opposed to the seal hunt in Canada is because the only market for seal products is fur for the fashion industry.  Perhaps this claim is the motive behind the group's attempts to halt sales of Omega 3 health supplements made from seal oil.  I mean if the world saw some non-fur markets for seal products opening up it might impact the fund raising capabilities of his group.

The last couple of years, when I have mentioned "the hunt" , the written responses I've received have mainly come from  zealous believers in animal rights, not from the leaders of animal rights groups. It is only when the topic of their financing has been touched upon that the fur really starts to fly, (no pun intended).  It's only then that the leaders of these groups begin to trip over themselves to respond.  Why is that I wonder?  Is the light too bright for them?

With this thought in mind, today I'd like to discuss Paul Watson once again.  He is as I've said, one of my favorites with his self professed pirate ways and all that fun stuff.  Besides, at this point in the hunt he seems to be the only one getting any attention anyway (all the others have pretty much closed up their fund raising campaigns by now).  With his call for a boycott on Costco, Paul has managed to get a little bit of attention lately so why not give him what he loves best, a news story.

Without further ado and in an effort to prove that my article response theory isn't just a figment of an overactive imagination, I've decided to publish some of the financial information I've gathered about Watson and his group over the last few years.  Some of this material has been published in other articles before, but I thought it might be interesting to view it all in one place.  (Besides I'm feeling a little lazy today and cut & paste is so easy). 

Let's see how long it takes before I get some response. 

Oh by the way, to the "save everything" believers in the audience, this article is neither pro or anti sealing so save your breath on that point. OK?  It's strictly financial in nature so let's fill up on some carbs and try to stay focused on the real point for a while shall we?

Fact:  If you visit the Sea Shepherd web site, you will easily find about 15 ways to donate your money to the group.  These guys are great at making giving easy for the believers.  Methods include:

Online Credit Card;

Call in / Fax Credit Card;

Mail in Donation;

Gift Memberships

Monthly Giving;

Stock Donations (I guess this is where the Society's Harley Davidson and Exon Mobile stock came from);

Frequent Flyer Miles (yes, they take those too);

Planned Giving and Wills (Even after you're dead you can keep on giving, what a humanitarian the Shepherd is);

Wish List (This is where they tell you what neat products they want and you can give those to them)

Workplace Giving (If it comes off your paycheck you won't even miss it folks!!!);

eScrip Shopping Program (another fun one. Stick around for details);

Sea Shepherd Credit Card (I'm not kidding, you can have your very own Sea Shepherd Visa)

Vehicle and Vessel Donation (anyone got a ship they've been trying to unload, here's your chance).

Fact:  Some of the items on the Sea Shepherd wish list, at the time I checked it out anyway, included:

"A Flat Screen T.V.";

"DVD Player";

"VHS Player"; and

"Sound System"

Fact:  You can also take advantage of their special partner program.

That's right folks every time you shop with one of their eScrip partners, a percentage of the sale goes directly to helping support the Society and its vegan, save every living creature ideals.

Two of the retail outlets listed are the Sierra Trading Post and a company called Orvis.  Sierra is quite proud of its line of leather shoes, while Orvis is equally proud of its line of Bullhide products including carry bags and brief cases.   Also listed are Terminix and ChemLawn, both subsidiaries of ServiceMaster. The sole purpose of both these pest control companies is to utilize highly toxic chemicals to kill all insect life in the immediate area.  I guess all living things are not created equal

As interesting as Paul Watson's fund raising activities are, his questionable financial dealings, and those of the Sea Shepherd Society itself, are even more interesting.  All items outlined below are a matter of public record since Sea Shepherd is listed as a non-profit organization.

1 - In 2000 Sea Shepherd reported income of $129,749 from consulting fees, but there was no indication what sort of consulting this was, or for whom it was performed. Immediately following, Paul Watson, who has long prided himself in not taking a salary from the society, began doing so.

2 - In 2002 the Sea Shepherd Society passed out $35,000 in grants. Despite IRS requirements to do so, the Society didn't divulge the recipients.

3 - One of Sea Shepherd's biggest supporters is Ms. Ann Johnston, wife of Florida land developer Mr. Pritam Singh. Mr. Singh, whose original name is actually Paul LaBombard was banned from banking for life in 1995 and ordered to pay $1.2 million dollars by federal bank regulators for his financing activities. According to the Key News Journal, Singh has also been investigated by the FBI for his questionable business practices and a Key West attorney has filed a lawsuit against him, alleging almost 20 years of criminal activity -- including racketeering and fraud.

Even after these incidents, Mr. Singh was listed as a member of the financial and management advisory board for the Sea Shepherd Society, despite his less than admirable financial history.  Records also show major overlap between the names and addresses of many board members for the Sea Shepherd society and various companies owned by Singh and his wife.  In fact, Watson's ex-wife Lisa Distefano, who has been connected with a mysterious organization called OrcaForce, was a board member on one of Singh's companies.  She, along with other members of Sea Shepherd have claimed multiple home addresses over the years, many of which can be traced directly back to Singh properties, including a golf course development he was involved with. 

The relationship between Singh and Watson goes much deeper than that.

4 - Ms. Johnston, Singh's wife, cemented herself as a true friend when she made a donation to the Society, which she claimed was valued at nearly $2.7 million dollars. This gift consisted of a company called "Northern Development Associates", a business with holdings in Alaska including the "Misty Fjords Lodge".  Watson would later claim that the lodge was a research facility and that he lived there.  In reality he never lived there and the lodge was registered with the US forestry service as the only legal commercial fishing lodge inside Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska.

Tax returns for "Northern Development Associates", the company donated to the Society, show losses of over $550,000 during a three-year period. IRS documents show that the non-profit, donation run, Sea Shepherd society made a series of loans to its wholly-owned affiliate for nearly $900,000.  I have been unable to find any record of repayment on those loans.  In 2002, for the first time, Sea Shepherd's tax returns show the Society had incorporated the company's losses into its own bottom line. 

On November 8, 2004, the Misty Fjords Lodge (the primary asset of "Northern Development Associates"), was sold to a newly-formed company headed by none other than Pritam Singh, the husband of the original donor.  At the time of the sale the property was identified by the realtor as being listed for $1 million dollars under the appraised value.

So, let's do the math based on what we know. 

A donation of a business supposedly valued at 2.7 million is given to the Sea Shepherd Society, allowing the Singhs to claim the amount as a donation.

Then, $900,000 worth of Sea Shepherd's charitable donations (from true believers) is loaned to this company that supposedly had losses of over $550,000.

The losses of the company (and potentially even the $900,000 in defaulted loans) are then claimed by Sea Shepherd Society on its books, resulting in a tax claim of up to $1.4 million.

Then, the company is sold back to its original owners for a 1 million less than it was originally claimed to be worth resulting in another potential million dollar tax write off for Sea Shepherd.

The end result:  2.7 million in tax claims for Singh and his wife, up to 2.4 million in tax claims for Sea Shepherd and today the same people who owned the company at the beginning of all this process still own it.

But wait, there's more.

In April of 1999, the Sea Shepherd Society received a donation of a "Key West Home and Land" in Florida (where the Singhs live) which the Society claimed was valued at $329,500.   Sea Shepherd later reported $64,070 in expenses for maintenance at the property as "Program Service Expenses," indicating the money was spent to further the non-profit organization's tax-exempt purpose.  Only 2 months after receiving the property, they sold it for $850,000 (about $521,000 more than the original value) yet Sea Shepherd claimed an overall loss on the transaction of more than $265,000 due to related costs.  

A satellite photo search at that time found no structures at the location identified as the address of sale.

Although the property is identified as being in the area where the Singhs live, it is not known if they were involved in this transaction since the name of the donor was not found in available documents.

The financial dealings between the Singhs and Watson are interesting to say the least and there are far too many to document here.  To close, I'll just take a minute to touch on a couple of other interesting items, one of which I might even find a little humorous if the topic wasn't so sad.

Fact: In 2003, Sea Shepherd claimed that they had issued a grant of $8,000 to OrcaForce International, a group supposedly started by Watson's ex-wife.   Remember her?  She's the one who listed one of Singh's golf course developments as her home address.  At the time of the supposed donation, the OrcaForce address was listed on the society's web site as a Sea Shepherd International address.

Over the years, many assets have been moved between Sea Shepherd and OrcaForce.  Although OrcaForce has a Canadian address, investigation did not uncover any registration or structural information on the group in either the U.S. or Canada.

Fact: Sea Shepherd donations often take the form of stock in major corporations. Contributions to the society in the past have even included Exxon-Mobile stock valued at nearly $100,000 that was gifted by a lady from Florida.  It is not known if this person is connected with Florida residents Pritam Singh and his wife.

The donation of Exxon-Mobile stock may have been purely legitimate of courses, but it's an odd holding for a society run by a man who said just after hurricane Katrina:   "I won't give one penny for Katrina relief. I'll give for the animals, but not for relief efforts until the oil companies pony up millions for the destruction caused by global warming."

There you are.  I've said my piece. Let the responses roll in.