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Animal cruelty case nets win for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus

| Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 8:46 p.m.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Owners of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, said on Friday that they will receive $9.3 million from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to settle part of a lawsuit the circus owners filed against the ASPCA and several other animal rights groups.

Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros., sued the ASPCA and the other groups in 2007 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, contending the groups and their lawyers paid more than $190,000 to a former Ringling employee who had joined them in suing the circus company in 2000, alleging animal cruelty under the Endangered Species Act.

A federal court at the end of a six-week trial in 2009 ruled in the circus' favor. In its ruling, the court characterized the former employee, Tom Rider, as a paid witness whose testimony was not credible.

Feld's racketeering lawsuit against the ASPCA also includes the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA, Rider and some of the attorneys involved in the litigation. But Friday's settlement covers only the ASPCA.

“These defendants attempted to destroy our family-owned business with a hired plaintiff who made statements that the court did not believe,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and chief executive officer of Feld Entertainment. “This settlement is a vindication not just for the company, but also for the dedicated men and women who spend their lives working and caring for all the animals with Ringling Bros. in the face of such targeted, malicious rhetoric.”

The settlement ends part of a battle in what has been a decades-long war between animal rights activists and circus companies such as Ringling.

Activist groups have long held that Ringling treats its performing elephants cruelly. Over the years, they have released undercover videos showing trainers beating the elephants, which activists say are housed in cramped quarters and are poorly treated for debilitating diseases.

As part of the settlement, ASPCA officials said on Friday that their organization does not admit any liability or wrongdoing.

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