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Official says dogs failed bomb-sniffing tests

June 11, 2003|by KEVIN KILLEN/Northern Virginia Daily

The federal government terminated Russell Ebersole's contract to provide drug- and explosives-detecting dogs and began an investigation of his business after five of six canines failed their qualifying tests, a government official testified Tuesday.

The second day of testimony in the federal fraud trial of Ebersole, a Hagerstown-area resident, didn't hold many surprises, but the day of the tests was discussed by Richard Strobel of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who had run the dogs through their paces.

Ebersole, 43, faces 28 counts of wire fraud and making false statements to government agencies following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He is accused of charging more than $700,000 for the use of his dogs by various government agencies after Sept. 11.

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He ran the company Detector Dogs Against Drugs and Explosives Inc. from the Aberdeen Acres Kennels, north of Winchester, Va., in Frederick County. Ebersole markets the dogs as being trained to detect explosives, drugs and weapons for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Field Office in New York and the IRS Service Center in Fresno, Calif.

Strobel, who administered the tests to Ebersole's canines at the ATF Canine Training facility in Front Royal in April 2002, said that all but one failed government standards of testing for bomb-sniffing dogs.

Strobel said that each dog has to sniff out and identify six of 10 explosive powders to qualify. The dogs also have to determine explosive odors against other nonexplosive odors, such as food or toothpaste.

The stringent government test disqualifies for certification any dog with more than two "false positives," when the dogs mistake nonexplosive odors for explosive odors. Strobel said that five of Ebersole's dogs had at least three "false positives," causing them to fail.

Strobel said dynamite gives off a particularly strong odor, which should be easier for dogs to detect than others. He said that some of Ebersole's dogs missed that odor more than six times.

In cross-examination, Ebersole's attorney, Spencer Ault, asked Strobel if any of the ATF trained dogs have ever failed.

"It's a rare occurrence, but it has happened," Strobel said.

Strobel said that the ATF has at least 60 trained bomb-sniffing dogs. Ault countered the government's charge by saying that the test given to Ebersole's canines had been altered from that given to the ATF dogs.

Strobel said that he created a "hybrid" mix of various sniffing tests that the ATF gives its dogs. "They were essentially the same tests," he said.

U.S. Attorney Thomas McQuillan pointed out that Inga, one dog that failed the test, had been trained by Ebersole. According to the official test chart, filled out by Strobel, Inga failed to identify the odor of dynamite on six occasions.

Also Tuesday, Ivan Brewster, a deputy sheriff with the Washtenaw County, Mich., Sheriff's Department, told the jury that Ebersole, who claimed that his dogs were certified by the U.S. Police Canine Association, had no such certification.

"To be a certified member, you have to be a law enforcement official," Brewster said. He said that four of DADDE's trainers were certified by the organization.

Ebersole faces another federal trial in August in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg on six counts, including federal witness tampering. He has further been indicted on charges of wire fraud, causing explosives to be transported by air in violation of the law, and making false statements to the ATF. Before the second federal trial, he is scheduled to appear in Richmond Circuit Court on July 14 for further action on a perjury count that stems from his July 9, 2002, testimony before a hearing officer with the Department of Criminal Justice Services on charges of falsifying documents. That trial began in March, and ended in a hung jury.

The maximum penalty of a conviction on all federal charges is more than 140 years in prison and $2 million in fines.

The trial is to continue this morning.

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