- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

The owner of a Virginia business that supplies bomb-sniffing dogs was fined $708,000 yesterday and sentenced to 6 years in prison for marketing ill-trained dogs and handlers to government agencies after the September 11 attacks.

Russell Lee Ebersole, 43, of Hagerstown, Md., was charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria in March after his dogs and their handlers failed to detect more than 100 pounds of explosives hidden during a field test.

In June, he was convicted of 25 counts of wire fraud and two counts of submitting false claims to the United States. U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said Ebersole’s sentence “appropriately reflects the seriousness” of the crimes.

“Not only did [he] steal from this country at its most vulnerable time, but, by supplying such ill-trained bomb dogs and handlers, he deliberately endangered the lives of many government workers, the public in general, and his own employees,” Mr. McNulty said in a statement.

Ebersole’s attorney, Spencer Ault, said the field test, administered in April 2002, was unfair because the dogs and their handlers were prevented from searching inside the vehicles carrying the explosives.

The dogs were given one minute to inspect the vehicles, Mr. Ault said, adding that 15 minutes were allowed during similar tests given to bomb dogs for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Mr. Ault, who plans to appeal the conviction, said the sentencing guidelines were misapplied and that Ebersole should have received a sentence of zero to six months.

Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Ebersole offered the services of his bomb-sniffing dogs to the State Department and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in the District, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief office in New York City and the Internal Revenue Service office in Fresno, Calif.

Through May 2002, the agencies paid his Stephenson, Va., company, Detector Dogs Against Drugs and Explosives, more than $700,000 for bomb-detection teams to patrol building perimeters.

Court papers showed that the dogs failed explosives-detection tests on five occasions during that time, including one in which they missed 50 pounds of TNT, 50 pounds of Trenchite-5 dynamite and 15 pounds of C-4 hidden in three vehicles that had entered the Federal Reserve parking facility.

Mr. Ault said several of the tests given to the dogs were unfair and that the government refused when he requested that a set of tests be given under the same rules used by CBP and the ATF.

“Russ Ebersole is not a criminal. He tried to provide service to his country in a time of need, but unfortunately the justice system is imperfect,” he said.

The court found otherwise, convicting Ebersole of lying in proposals he submitted to secure business with federal agencies about training procedures used by his company and the qualifications of its dogs and handlers.

A jury also found him guilty of submitting to the State Department, the Federal Reserve and the IRS phony certifications of his dogs’ performance and proficiency and of submitting a false $11,000 bill to FEMA for a September 2001 trip to New York City by a subcontractor for his company and two dogs.

Last month, Ebersole pleaded guilty in federal court in Harrisonburg, Va., to improperly shipping explosives through United Parcel Service. He is awaiting sentencing on those charges.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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