by Melissa R. Stevens

The National Horse Show Commission’s Independent Hearing Committee ruled unanimously Nov. 4, 2003, that the charges filed against Toby Scarbrough were founded and that the penalty would stand.

Charges were brought against Scarbrough in January of this year after Lonnie Messick, current executive vice president of the NHSC, received a sworn complaint from Craig Evans, a former NHSC chairman. The complaint alleged that Scarbrough violated Rule IX, Article B, Section 3b and Section 3i of the NHSC Rule Book, which lists the following as violations, “Acting or inciting or permitting any other to act in a manner contrary to the Rules of the NHSC, or in a manner deemed improper, unethical, dishonest, unsportsmanlike or intemperate, or prejudicial to the best interest of the NHSC. Influencing or attempting to influence by any means or manner any Judge in determining which horse shall win in any class at any affiliated show.”

Evans filed the complaint after hearing of an audio tape of Toby Scarbrough offering 1997 Celebration judge Jeff Hatcher $500 to tie his horse, Royal’s China Doll, in the Plantation Pleasure Specialty Championship for Amateur Riders during the 1997 Celebration and indicating that he had already made a deal with two of the other judges.

Evans learned of the tape after receiving a telephone call from Jeff Hatcher in December 2002 asking him what he thought of the tape. Evans testified that he asked Mr. Hatcher, “What tape are you suggesting that I have?” Mr. Hatcher reportedly replied that the investigators had it and then went on to tell Evans what was on the tape.

Evans then called Toby Scarbrough about the alleged tape and told him that if it were true there would be consequences. Evans testified that Scarbrough denied any involvement in the situation.

Evans then contacted Frank Neal, who was to become the next NHSC chairman, to make him aware of the situation. Neal had, however, already heard the tape.

Neal received a copy of the tape from Ron Thomas, CEO of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, in early January 2003. The Celebration had been conducting an investigation into their 2002 horse show when Celebration board member David Howard was contacted by Jeff Hatcher on Dec. 20, 2002.

"He called me early in the morning and asked about an investigation the Celebration was conducting," Howard said.

During that phone conversation Hatcher told Howard about the tape and asked if he wanted a copy of it. Howard testified that he told Hatcher he would take a copy of the tape under certain conditions. One of those was that once Howard had the tape he could do with it what he chose, including turn it over to the Celebration or the NHSC. The other condition was that Hatcher stand behind it.

"He was concerned about being sanctioned for not having come forward earlier," Howard said. "I admired him for coming forward with the tape. I received the tape on Dec. 30 and it was turned over to the Commission in early January."

Howard called Ron Thomas and they listened to the tape together. Thomas kept the tape and gave it to Frank Neal upon his request. Neal in turn had a copy of the tape sent to Craig Evans.

Evans told the committee that after listening to the tape he was “angered and frustrated.” He then telephoned Scarbrough to inform him that he had the tape and was filing an official complaint with the NHSC.

That official complaint spurred the investigation conducted by the NHSC’s Lonnie Messick. Messick contacted the Celebration to request a copy of the judge’s cards and a class sheet from the 1997 Celebration. During the investigation Messick interviewed several individuals including Scarbrough, Hatcher, Howard and Carol Wakefield, who was the only judge to tie Scarbrough’s horse first in the class that evening. According to Messick, Wakefield denied being contacted by anyone about fixing any classes during the 1997 Celebration.

As part of his investigation, Messick went so far as to contact the company that manufactured the tape in an attempt to determine its age. He also brought the tape to two experts in audio recording, Doug Mitchell, who has his masters degree in mass communication with an emphasis in recording arts and sciences from the University of Wisconsin, and Carlos Greer, who owns a recording studio in Nashville, Tenn. Both Mitchell and Greer signed affidavits of their belief that the tape had not been tampered with in any way.

After completing his investigation, Messick determined that Scarbrough was in violation of the rules listed in the complaint and issued the following penalty: his privilege of obtaining or holding a NHSC judge’s license was revoked for life; his privilege to serve at the NHSC or hold or exercise an office at the NHSC was revoked for life; he was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine; and for a period of 10 years he was suspended from participating either directly or indirectly in any NHSC affiliated or sanctioned event which includes but is not limited to the showing, exhibiting or selling of a horse owned in whole or in part by him or in which he has financial interest or owned in whole or in part by any entity in which he has ownership or financial interest.

Six of the 10 years of suspension will be suspended on the following conditions: the fine imposed must be paid during the calendar year of 2003; during the first four years of the suspension he must not participate either directly or indirectly at any NHSC or other HIO affiliated or sanctioned event or any other unaffiliated walking or racking horse event to include but is not limited to the showing, exhibiting or selling of a horse owned in whole or in part by him or in which he has financial interest or owned in whole or in part by any entity in which he has ownership or financial interest; and he must not violate any NHSC rule or regulation during the entire 10 year period. Any failure to abide by the terms of the suspension will result in the imposition of the balance of the 10 year suspension.

Scarbrough was notified of the penalty on March 14, 2003. He immediately filed an appeal which allowed him to continue showing until the appeal was heard.

The first appeal hearing was scheduled for June 18, 2003. Scarbrough filed for a Temporary Restraining Order that day in an attempt to postpone the hearing. The judge denied the order and instructed the attorneys to reach an agreement so that the hearing could be held as soon as possible. The attorneys met and agreed to reschedule the hearing for Sept. 17-19, but it was once again postponed.

Finally, Nov. 4, 2003, the NHSC’s Independent Hearing Committee heard the appeal. According to Jimmy Bradshaw, attorney for the NHSC, Scarbrough and his attorney petitioned for a continuance, but the Independent Hearing Officer denied it. Both Scarbrough and his attorney were apprised of the date, time and location of the hearing, but they did not attend. The hearing went on without them.

Jeff Hatcher, Craig Evans, David Howard, Frank Neal, Ron Thomas and Lonnie Messick were all called to testify. Doug Mitchell, one of the experts in audio recording Messick contacted during his investigation, was also called in to verify that the tape of Scarbrough offering Hatcher $500 to tie his horse in the class had not been altered.

After hearing the testimony and listening to the tape, the Committee ruled five to zero that the charges against Scarbrough were founded and that the penalty assessed by Lonnie Messick would stand. Messick declined to comment when contacted by The Report about the outcome of the hearing.

Scarbrough’s penalty goes into effect immediately, but he has 20 days to appeal the Committee’s decision. If he does appeal, the matter will go before the entire NHSC Board. Scarbrough will have to receive eight of nine votes to overturn the Committee’s ruling. Attempts to contact Scarbrough by The Report were unsuccessful.