In a landmark RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit, Feld Entertainment, Inc. and the Ringling Brothers® circus are suing the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), its lawyers and several other animal-rights groups.

The nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) unearthed the Feb. 16 lawsuit in federal court records last week. CCF is making the lawsuit available on its newest website, www.humanewatch.org.

In the lawsuit, Feld levels bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice and money-laundering charges against HSUS and two of its corporate attorneys, three other animal rights groups, the Washington, D.C. law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, and all three of that firm’s named partners.

Briefly, Feld Entertainment owns Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus®. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and other animal rights groups, including HSUS, sued Feld in July 2000 claiming abuse to animals. Specifically, according to Feld lawyers, the complaint alleged that Ringling Brothers violated the Endangered Species Act by harming the elephants through the use of guides and tethers. The animal groups claimed this was an illegal “taking” of the elephants under the law. Another of the plaintiffs suing was Tom Rider, a former Feld employee who worked in the elephant barn.

In a pre-trial statement in October 2008, Michelle Pardo of Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., which is representing Feld Entertainment in the case, said: “animal special-interest groups are distorting the facts by making false allegations about the treatment of Ringling Brothers elephants as part of a long-running crusade to eliminate animals from circuses, zoos and wildlife parks. Feld Entertainment will show during the trial that its elephants are healthy, alert and thriving, and it intends to debunk the misinformation that has been spread by those who do not own or know how to care for an elephant.”

On Dec. 30, 2009, Federal Judge Emmitt Sullivan ruled those who brought the complaint against Feld collaborated to pay more than $190,000 to Rider in exchange for his impeached testimony against Feld. Judge Sullivan declared Rider’s testimony “not credible” and disregarded it in its entirety. That lawsuit was dismissed.

Feld is also suing Rider and a nonprofit Wildlife Advocacy Project charity, claiming that Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal used it to funnel money from their plaintiff clients to Rider. These clients included the Fund for Animals, which merged with HSUS in 2004.

“America’s farmers, ranchers, hunters, fishermen, research scientists, fashion designers and restaurateurs have seen for decades how the animal-rights movement can behave like a mobbed-up racket,” says David Martosko, CCF director of research. “But it’s still shocking to see the evidence laid out on paper. In a treble-damage lawsuit like this, a jury could actually do the humane thing and finally put HSUS out of business completely.”

CCF recently launched www.humanewatch.org as an online watchdog project dedicated to analyzing HSUS’s activities and keeping the group honest. It includes a blog, an interactive document library, and a growing body of information about HSUS-related organizations and staff.

CCF is a nonprofit watchdog organization that informs the public about the activities of tax-exempt activist groups. It’s supported by American consumers, business organizations and foundations.