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Celebration investigation finds no conclusive evidence



An investigation by an independent counsel has found no solid evidence to support allegations of wrongdoing concerning inappropriate gifts and financial incentives to judges during the 2002 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

“After an extensive investigation, I was unable to find any competent evidence that would support criminal charges or civil litigation at this time regarding allegations that attempts were made to bribe or influence judges,” said Nashville attorney Tracy Shaw, the independent counsel retained by The Celebration to conduct the investigation. “Although no concrete evidence was discovered, it is apparent that additional guidelines, policies and procedures need to be developed and clearly identified to avoid future implications of wrongdoing.”

Shaw said the two-month investigation included interviews with more than a dozen people in the Walking Horse industry, including owners, trainers and judges. Shaw also met with representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State of Tennessee’s Criminal Investigation Division, as well as Bedford County Sheriff Clay Parker. The findings of the investigation were reported to the Celebration’s Board of Directors.

According to Pat Marsh, chairman of the Celebration’s Board of Directors, there was misconception that the investigation was concerned with the judging panel itself, which was not the case. Marsh stated there were no indications of wrongdoing by the judges and that the concerns dealt with matters outside the center ring. “The integrity of the judges was never directly called into question,” said Marsh. “When the board received implications of concerns over issues arising the from 2002 Celebration, they initiated an independent investigation to discover the true facts of the situations. The reputation of our horse shows demands that unethical behavior cannot and will not be tolerated.”

After receiving the findings of the independent counsel, as well as Shaw’s suggestion to develop additional guidelines, the Celebration’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to review its ethical policies and to clarify its rules and regulations, where needed. Additionally, the Celebration met with the National Horse Show Commission on January 27, and shared their findings about the investigation.

Celebration officials will ask the National Horse Show Commission Board of Directors to review several Commission rules that might need to be strengthened or clarified. An ongoing investigation continues by the National Horse Show Commission regarding an issue that was brought to light near the conclusion of Mr. Shaw’s investigation. Results of this issue will be known in the near future.

“We will continue, as always, to institute whatever policies and procedures are required to safeguard the integrity of our event,” said Marsh.

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