CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The chairman of the state Racing Commission said Wednesday it is "worth asking a question" about allegations that live rabbits are being used to train state greyhounds, a cruel and forbidden practice the racing industry says is no longer in use.
Chairman Joe Smith's comments came one day after Harry Marshall Rae of California told a federal judge in Charleston he had footage from other states showing dogs that race in West Virginia being trained using live lures, meaning the dogs pursue a live rabbit around a track.
Rae was in court to plead guilty to one count of extortion. He was charged after threatening to release the tapes last fall in a failed attempt to injure Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's reputation. The governor's mother, Freda Tomblin, and brother, Carl Tomblin, breed greyhounds.
Smith said he didn't have any information that would support Rae's allegation but he would like to have "some additional information regarding his allegations."
"I think prudence would suggest we do an inquiry of people that are racing, but I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that there's a basis for his allegation," Smith said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Smith said he would want to consult with lawyers about the commission's jurisdiction because the footage is of practices said to be happening outside West Virginia. Greyhounds are not trained in West Virginia, according to racing officials.
"Sometimes you can regulate certain things but not other things, and I'm not sure we can regulate the training, but it's never too late to ask," Smith said.
Wheeling Island's owner, Delaware North Companies, said Rae's allegations are false and the company has no knowledge of live lure training.
"Regarding the false allegation made by Harry Marshall Rae while pleading guilty to extortion in U.S. federal court in Charleston Tuesday, Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack has no knowledge of any greyhounds that race at our facility being trained using live lures," a company spokesman said in an email.
"In fact, we strictly prohibit that practice and require every kennel to provide us with a signed affidavit attesting that the kennel does not train its dogs in that manner. This is part of our due diligence to ensure a kennel is in good standing before it is allowed to submit greyhounds for racing."
Rae told U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver that kennel owners at Wheeling Island had violated those signed affidavits and trained dogs using live lures anyway.
The judge asked if any of the dogs Rae was referring to were owned by the Tomblin family.
"Yes," Rae replied.