Greyhound trainer forged signature of dead Miami veterinarian, state says

Published Feb. 5, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — One of the largest greyhound kennel operators in the state used the signature of a dead Miami veterinarian to forge the vaccination records of dogs racing in South Florida, St. Petersburg and Jacksonville, according to a complaint filed last week by state regulators.

The allegations against James E. "Barney" O'Donnell raise more questions about the safety of the animals that run at Florida's greyhound tracks and the lack of regulatory rigor from the agency assigned to regulate the industry, the Division of Parimutuel Wagering.

State law requires that every kennel show proof that active and inactive racing dogs be vaccinated for certain diseases such as kennel cough. From July 2010 until the end of 2011, O'Donnell offered regulators proof that 94 of his dogs who raced at Mardi Gras Racetrack in Hallandale Beach, the Orange Park Kennel Club in Jacksonville and the Derby Lane St. Petersburg Kennel Club had been vaccinated.

The documents included the signature of a longtime Miami veterinarian, Dr. Emilio Vega. But there was one problem: Vega was dead.

"Dr. Emilio Vega has been deceased since June 30, 2010, and therefore did not administer vaccinations to Respondents greyhounds between July 2010 and 2011,'' the state complaint said.

The state is now asking an administrative law judge to revoke O'Donnell's license to race greyhounds and fine him $96,000. His employers have taken swift action.

The operators of the racetracks in Jacksonville and Hallandale Beach said they have suspended O'Donnell's contract as of Monday morning, banning his dogs from racing there.

"If these dogs aren't properly vaccinated, it can cause all kinds of problems,'' said Dan Adkins, owner of the Mardi Gras Racetrack and Casino on Hallandale Beach. "If you're going to do that, what else are you going to do?"

Gary Rutledge, lawyer for the Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, said that track's contract is with O'Donnell's wife, Pauline O'Donnell, who has not been charged and her dogs will continue to race.