A top Democratic contender in the Michigan governor’s race fought to sell off more than 100 animals at a shuttered pharmaceutical testing facility he owned, court records show, contradicting his account of events that culminated in the neglected animals’ rescue.
Businessman Shri Thanedar has been weathering accusations of animal neglect after HuffPost reported Wednesday that animal welfare groups had to rescue over 170 dogs and monkeys months after the Oxford, New Jersey, facility shut down in 2010.
On Thursday, the candidate tried to pin the animals’ neglect on Bank of America, which repossessed the property in April of that year. He said the bank sought to sell the animals against his advice.
But court records show that the court-appointed receiver, charged with managing the disputed property, actually tried to place the animals in sanctuaries against Thanedar’s wishes.
In fact, it was Thanedar’s attorneys who unsuccessfully sought to have the animals assessed and sold.
“The lawyers were just using any leverage to keep the bank to do its job,” Thanedar told HuffPost on Saturday. He said the animals were not abandoned.
The candidate owned the lab, AniClin Preclinical Services, through its parent company Azopharma until it was shuttered in April 2010.
In July of that year, two animal welfare groups rescued 118 testing beagles stranded in the laboratory. Prior to the organizations’ intervention, the animals’ caregivers climbed the fences of the shuttered facility to provide the dogs with food and water, according to a USA Today report at the time.
Another animal welfare group intervened later that month to find homes for 55 long-tailed macaque monkeys stuck there. The group reportedly learned about the situation thanks to a tip from a caregiver.
The candidate went on a media tour Thursday to defend himself.
“I told the bank that there is sensitive research being done ... living animals’ lives involved, and let us take care of it,” Thanedar told Michigan Fox affiliate WJBK. “But they did not accept our advice. They were anxious to sell all of the assets and get their money, and they did.”
Thanedar’s actions at the time tell a very different story.
The firm acting as a receiver, Morris-Anderson & Associates, filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on June 14, 2010, seeking permission to transfer the animals to sanctuaries that had agreed to grant various releases.
“The Receiver has investigated the various options available with respect to the Animals and has determined that it is in the best interests of the Receivership Estate for the Animals to be placed with the various animal sanctuaries,” Morris-Anderson’s motion said.
An attorney for Thanedar’s companies objected to the proposal, arguing instead that Morris-Anderson should have tried to sell the animals. The proceeds from the sale, Thanedar’s attorney maintained, could have benefited the creditors and thus reduced Thanedar’s debts to them.
“The value of the animals could have a range of between $189,000.00 to $445,000.00,” the filing states. “The Motion does not indicate whether Receiver has taken any action to sell the animals (i.e. to another testing facility) for the benefit of the creditors.”
The judge in the case, Rodney Sippel, ruled in favor of Morris-Anderson on June 30, authorizing the animals’ transfer to the sanctuaries. Thanedar’s attorneys had withdrawn their objection by then, the judge noted.
Thanedar is locked in a contentious three-way Democratic primary with Gretchen Whitmer, the former Democratic leader of the state Senate, and Abdul El-Sayed, a physician and former Detroit health director.
Thanedar held a narrow lead over Whitmer, and a double-digit lead over El-Sayed, in a March poll. The primary is scheduled for August 7.
This story has been updated with comment from Thanedar.