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Dog training expert questions man's claims at trial

June 12, 2003|by KEVIN KILLEN/Northern Virginia Daily

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - The director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' canine training center in Front Royal, Va., testified Wednesday that Russell Ebersole's dog training method is not the same as that practiced at his own facility.

Robert Noll testified for nearly two hours in the U.S. District Court trial of Ebersole, a Hagerstown-area man facing 28 counts of wire fraud and making false statements to government agencies following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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

Noll, who testified as an expert witness, disputed claims that Ebersole's Stephenson, Va.-based business, Detector Dogs Against Drugs and Explosives Inc., uses the same training methods as those used for government-trained dogs.

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Ebersole, 43, 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. According to DADDE's mission statement, the canines are trained to detect odors of drugs and explosives.

Noll said it is possible, but "highly unlikely," that someone could train dogs to detect both drugs and explosives.

"That usually is too much for a dog to handle, to use different scents," Noll said.

Noll said that at the ATF center, each dog is trained by one handler, not by several, as is the case at Ebersole's operation, based at Aberdeen Acres Kennels in Frederick County, Va.

"One dog, one handler" is the standard procedure, Noll said. "You have to develop a bond between the dog and its handler, or the dog won't work properly."

U.S. Attorney Thomas McQuillan showed Noll certificate papers of handlers and dogs from Ebersole's facility, which show that some trainers were certified by using up to three dogs.

"That doesn't happen at our facility," Noll said. "The dog and the trainer qualify as one team."

In cross-examination, Ebersole's co-counsel, John Tran, discussed the food reward method given to dogs for their work. Ebersole has said his dogs are rewarded with food after they exhibit "passive indication" by sitting and lying down when a substance is found.

Noll said that the ATF facility will reward a dog with food after making the initial imprinting of that odor.

"The dog sniffs in and out, identifies it, and is given food" he said.

On Tuesday, the ATF's Richard Strobel, who administered tests to six of Ebersole's dogs in April 2002, testified that five of them failed by misidentifying three substances, or "false positives," in which the dogs mistakenly react to nonexplosive odors.

Ebersole, dressed in a blue pin-striped suit, has sat stoically through the proceedings.

This is the first of three trials Ebersole faces. He is to be tried in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, Va., in August on six counts including federal witness tampering.

He is scheduled to appear in Richmond (Va.) Circuit Court on July 14 for further action on a perjury count.

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