ST. PETERSBURG — The couple, once referred to as the king and queen of greyhound racing by their Derby Lane kennel manager-trainer, John Graham, are in a royal mess.
Veteran dog man James E. "Barney" O'Donnell Jr., 84, of Miami Lakes has been accused by Florida parimutuel officials of violating state law to race dogs. The result could end a career spanning more than a half-century. A major contributor of greyhounds at Derby Lane and other venues around the country, O'Donnell has been banned from Best Bet at Orange Park near Jacksonville and Mardi Gras in Hallandale Beach.
The O'Donnell brand remains at Derby Lane, where wife Pauline O'Donnell, 81, continues to own a kennel and race dogs. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing by the state.
In an administrative complaint filed Jan. 28 by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation-Division of Parimutuel Wagering, spokeswoman Tajiana Ancora-Brown said the state is asking an administrative law judge for the revocation of Barney O'Donnell's parimutuel license and a fine of $96,000.
The complaint says between Sept. 14, 2011 and Dec. 21, 2011, O'Donnell provided the state vaccination records related to 94 of his dogs that had raced at Derby Lane, Best Bet and Mardi Gras. The records indicated the dogs had received required vaccinations between July 2010 and July 2011. The records included a signature purported to be that of Dr. Emilio Vega, a Miami veterinarian, which the state says was forged because Vega died June 30, 2010, the complaint said.
The state complaint says regulators discovered in 2013 more O'Donnell violations in two unannounced inspections at Florida Kennels, a compound in Hialeah shared by Flagler Greyhound Track and Mardi Gras. The complaint says regulators found several prohibited devices and medications and indications of questionable procedures and animal welfare practices, including: a hypodermic syringe with attached needle that revealed the presence of androstenedione, boldenone and testosterone — all anabolic steroids; an empty IV bag in the refrigerator; two glass liquor bottles containing an unknown yellow substance without a prescription; Clorox and cleaning supplies stored on top of crates where dogs were bedded; and a bottle of VEDCO SulfadiVed injection, which is used to combat antibacterial infections such as kennel cough. Injections in a kennel are prohibited.
Neither Barney nor Pauline O'Donnell responded to an interview request, and Graham, the kennel manager, declined to speak.
Derby Lane chief of operations David Tiano said Pauline O'Donnell kennel will remain on the roster, and he would not speculate on its future.
"I don't look at it as a problem on our end at all, because we currently have all our greyhounds in our facility properly vaccinated," he said. "My concern first was how many dogs are owned (by Barney O'Donnell) in our compound, and I want them out or transferred in ownership.
"Anybody that treats themselves in that manner (as the complaint alleges about Barney O'Donnell) shouldn't be within our industry or be able to conduct themselves in the state of Florida. We've always been aboveboard with Tallahassee on the way we run things here.
"I don't want Pauline to suffer because of something that (her husband) did at another greyhound track. If that were the case, then I would cancel her contact and not allow her to run. But she's been the point person for that kennel as long as I could remember. She's the one who calls and the one who signs the contracts. I've never dealt with (Barney O'Donnell) personally. If he walked up to me, I wouldn't know what he looks like."
Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center vice president and chief operating officer Dan Adkins said the procedure at his track was different. "I dealt with Barney all the time," he said. "I haven't talked with Pauline in a long time.
"According to my people in the state, Barney O'Donnell is the man running the operation. And whether (Mardi Gras' contract) is under Pauline's name or James O'Donnell's name, (Barney) is the man who has the license and was running that kennel. What matters to me is the allegations were so egregious that if these animals were not being properly vaccinated, I cannot put my other kennels and greyhounds who run at the facility at risk."
Best Bet dropped O'Donnell swiftly.
"We have a zero tolerance when it comes to anybody not following proper procedure when it comes to the health and welfare of the greyhounds," track spokesman Michael Munz said. "We will not do business with either James O'Donnell kennel, O'Donnell kennel or Pauline O'Donnell kennel."
O'Donnell had not filed an appeal as of Thursday, and he has until next week to request a hearing.
What remains unexplained at Derby Lane is why the operation was renamed Pauline O'Donnell kennel on Sept. 8, 2012, according to records maintained by the Tampa Bay Times. That week, track spokeswoman Vera Rasnake provided no reason for the move when asked. "Kennels come to me all the time wanting to change names and ownerships," Tiano said. "I usually grant it as long as the management doesn't change."
John Filipelli, Rasnake's ex-husband, said Wednesday that he was a partner with James O'Donnell when the two had Filipelli & O'Donnell kennel from 2007-10 at Derby Lane. The union ended June 30, 2010, with Filipelli starting a new kennel and the O'Donnell operation being renamed J.E. O'Donnell Jr., which remained that way until the change to Pauline O'Donnell's name. Filipelli left Derby Lane three months later and now owns a kennel at Bluffs Run in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The National Greyhound Association said it is monitoring the O'Donnell allegations.
"The primary jurisdiction of the whole case with Barney rests with the state of Florida," NGA secretary-treasurer Gary Guccione said. "They have access to all the facts and the circumstances surrounding the situation and I'm sure will act in accordance with their rules and regulations. The NGA, at this point, will be observing and watching what occurs. But we really can't say what type of action, if any, the NGA would take until that is finalized."
MORE DOGS: The $64,000 Sprint Classic begins Saturday in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10.
Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.