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Query angered dog trainer, official says

June 13, 2003|by KEVIN KILLEN/Northern Virginia Daily

A former federal investigator testified Thursday that the owner of a firm that trains drug- and explosive-detecting dogs became angry when told he was being investigated for an apparent error in a billing to a government agency.

John Hawe, a former special agent with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, investigated a bill that Russell Ebersole submitted to the agency for the use of his detector dogs after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ebersole, 43, of Hagerstown, is being tried in U.S. District Court here on 28 counts of wire fraud and making false statements to government agencies. He is accused of charging more than $700,000 for the use of his dogs by government agencies after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Hawe, who works in private security, said that he spoke to Ebersole on three occasions to try to account for every charge that was paid on the $11,000 bill.

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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.

Hawe said he visited Ebersole at Aberdeen Acres Kennels, where Detector Dogs Against Drugs and Explosives Inc. is headquartered, on Feb. 2, Feb. 12 and March 5, 2002, to discuss the invoice.

"Mr. Ebersole said that he would produce the receipts when I asked for them, but it would take a while," Hawe testified. "Then, he began to cuss at me, and asked why I had the right to see his receipts."

FEMA special agent, Michael Dawson, testified that he contacted Ebersole about the receipts in March 2002 and "He became agitated, sweaty, and terminated the interview."

Ebersole was contacted by a FEMA agent in late September 2001 about sending a dog team to the World Trade Center site in New York, U.S. Attorney Thomas McQuillan said. But FEMA did not need Ebersole's services, so it sent the team back after one day, he said.

Under the terms of a FEMA contract, Ebersole was supposed to bill the agency only for mileage and lodging, but instead, billed for other things, including hauling explosives used to train his dogs, McQuillan said.

Former DADDE franchisee Peter Cheston testified that he and two dogs were dispatched to the World Trade Center site by Ebersole, but were told to go home after one day.

"We never did do any work there," Cheston said.

Cheston said he submitted a bill to Ebersole for $1,100 to cover mileage and hotel. The government produced a copy of the $11,000 invoice, and asked if it is what Cheston submitted. "No," he said. "My invoice was around $1,100 and change."

Ebersole's co-counsel John Tran produced a document that showed that another FEMA official had OK'd the original $11,000 invoice submitted by Ebersole. Hawe and Dawson said they were aware of that document, but an error had been made.

The government is expected to rest its case today, and the defense should start calling its witnesses, said Ault.

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