Snowden came armed with 10 letters from fellow horsemen, all dated before Pelerin's death, in which each breeder expressed interest in buying a share in the horse for $75,000 upon his retirement to stud. At the 40 shares Snowden said he would have sold, Pelerin's claimed value now rose to $3 million. Among the nationally known breeders who sent letters were Warner Jones, then chairman of the board of Churchill Downs; J.T. Lundy, later head of Calumet Farm; and the late Leslie Combs II, then the aging pillar of Spendthrift Farm.
Snowden looked as if he would win in a gallop when—in a maneuver Perry Mason would have envied—Feintuch, acting on the underwriters' behalf, called two witnesses who destroyed Snowden's case and earned him the glowering wrath of the judge, Henry Wilhoit. One of the witnesses, a secretary for breeder Dwayne Rogers, testified that she had typed Rogers's letter to Snowden. The problem was that she had not begun working for Rogers until 14 months after Pelerin's death. She explained to the court that Rogers told her to backdate the letter to Jan. 5, 1984, two months before the horse's demise. The other witness, a receptionist at Spendthrift Farm, testified that she had typed Combs's letter to Snowden but that she did not go to work at Spendthrift until July 1984, by which time Pelerin had been dead four months. She testified that Combs had her type the backdated letter late one day, after everyone else had left the office.
Snowden was in trouble. His lawyers withdrew on him, leaving him to face a furious Wilhoit. Snowden hired F. Lee Bailey to put the toothpaste back in the tube, but that did no good. After a third horseman admitted that his letter was a fraud, Wilhoit concluded that "all 10 letters had been backdated." While never addressing the question of whether Pelerin was poisoned, Wilhoit charged that "a fraud had been practiced upon the court." Not only was Snowden out the $1 million that Lloyds had offered in the original settlement, but he was also left with a dead horse, a court-ordered judgment against him for $194,131.12 (to cover court costs and the amount Lloyds spent in legal fees fighting his claim) and bills from his own departed lawyers, not to mention from Bailey.
While the thoroughbred business has had its sorry share of cases involving insurance fraud, it has experienced nothing like the maelstrom that Burns is about to set spinning in the show-horse business. Sources say that, based on Burns's testimony, some of the most celebrated figures in the game are targets of the grand jury probe. They include Donna Brown and her husband, Buddy Brown, a member of the U.S. equestrian team at the 1976 Olympics and still one of the nation's leading performers in Grand Prix jumping. Not only does Donna face allegations in connection with the death of Streetwise, but she and Buddy are also under investigation for the death of Aramis, another show jumper. According to sources, insurance records show that Aramis, while insured for $1 million, died under suspicious circumstances. (No charge has been tiled in either case.)
Asked about the federal investigations into the deaths of two of the Browns' horses, the couple's lawyer, Mark Arisohn, a Manhattan criminal defense specialist, says, "I wish I could give you a response. We will plead not guilty. Our defense will be established in the courtroom."
Another horseman who has attracted the attention of investigators is George Lindemann Jr. of Greenwich, Conn., who has emerged as one of the nation's most accomplished equestrians since graduating from Brown University in 1986. Lindemann has ridden his stable of gifted show jumpers to victory in some of the Grand Prix circuit's richest and most prestigious events, but federal investigators are more interested in what role, if any, he played in the December 1990 death of his champion hunter Charisma.
Tommy Burns has told authorities that Charisma was insured for $400,000 when Burns electrocuted him for Lindemann in a stall at the Lindemann family's Cellular Farms, in Armonk, N.Y. According to another source, Lindemann had purchased Charisma for $250,000 in 1989. Minus Burns's alleged $35,000 fee for the hit, the insurance payoff would have left Lindemann with a $115,000 profit. It also left investigators wondering why, if Burns's allegations are true, the enormously rich Lindemann—the name Cellular Farms refers to cellular phones, the source of the family's wealth—would take so big a risk for so small a sum.
Asked about the inquiry into Charisma's death, Lindemann referred all questions to his lawyer, Elaine Amendola, who said, "Why should I be talking about this when George has the FBI hanging all over his neck?" She added, however, that "George is completely innocent."
Additionally, federal agents are looking into the possible involvement of veterinarian Dana Tripp, also an accomplished equestrian, in the death of Streetwise. Florida investigators say that Tripp's red pickup truck—with DANA TRIPP, D.V.M. emblazoned on its doors—was part of Burns's caravan as it made its way toward Canterbury Farms. It was Tripp, according to sources cited in the police report, who recommended to Donna Brown that she hire Burns to stage Streetwise's accident. Prosecutors have phone records revealing Tripp's numerous conversations with both Brown and Burns in the two days leading up to the death of Streetwise. Tripp has refused to respond to SI's questions about the matter.
The Sandman's trail has led federal agents to stables in at least eight states. Sources say that Paul Valliere of North Smithfield, R.I., one of the show circuit's leading trainers, is under federal investigation. Burns has told authorities that Valliere hired him to destroy Roseau Platiere, one of Valliere's own horses. Burns says he electrocuted the animal one night in its stall at a horse show in Sugarbush, Vt. Reached at his Acres Wild Farm in Rhode Island, Valliere refused to answer any questions. Seeking corroboration of Burns's Sugarbush story, SI spoke to a woman who said that she had picked Burns up at the airport in Burlington, Vt., and taken him to the horse show. (The woman said she had given this information to the FBI.) SI also spoke to others who described Roseau Platiere as vigorous and healthy in the hours before Burns's visit. Burns says he has federal agents that Roseau Platiere was one of the three horses he destroyed in 1989 during the busiest week of his career as a contract killer.