By Chuck Strouse
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In the letter, McGreal asked lab director Gerone to provide a variety of details regarding the proposed transaction, including whether the monkeys would be imported, the exact number to be used, the country where they would be caught, and the price for each. McGreal concluded her letter with this pointed question to Gerone: "These endangered primates would be far better off living in the wild than in your institution, wouldn't you agree if you were a nonhuman primate?" Gerone did not respond.
Eighteen months later, in June 1990, McGreal followed up her first letter with a one-sentence note to Gerone. "Should Delta patronize the company Worldwide Primates, we invite you to peruse this animal dealer's notice from the Centers For Disease Control suspending his license to import primates."
The CDC had revoked Block's federally required registration as an animal importer after citing him for 46 quarantine violations in March 1990. (The revocation was part of a nationwide emergency inspection prompted by a devastating viral outbreak at a Virginia primate facility. Hundreds of monkeys died and humans were thought to be endangered.) At Block's warehouse CDC inspectors found that monkeys in one level of cages were defecating on monkeys below them. They discovered that employees were preparing lunch in the quarantine area, and were regularly taking their clothes home to be laundered rather than washing them in the building. They also found waste on the floor and more waste draining from a commercial dumpster outside. (Block has since cleared up the problems and CDC has restored his importation registration.)
In August of last year, Block's company filed a federal lawsuit against McGreal, claiming she had "intentionally, maliciously, and unjustifiably" interfered in his business relationship with the research facility by sending the letters, in hopes the lab would cease dealing with Worldwide Primates. McGreal's actions, Block alleged, caused him to lose credibility and orders with the Delta Regional Primate Research Center. He is seeking more than $5000 in compensatory damages and more than $500,000 in punitive damages.
When he began looking into the report of a burglary last month at Worldwide Primates, Metro-Dade Det. Jorge Carreno knew nothing of the acrimonious relationship between Block and McGreal, or that Block might be the target of a federal criminal investigation. The break-in itself remained a physical mystery, though the more he learned about Block's business and those who oppose it, the more emphasis he placed on motive. But he still has not received a description of the contents of files Block says were stolen, and thus he's been unable to speculate about who might have had an interest in the material.
Attorneys defending Shirley McGreal against Block's lawsuit certainly have an interest in his company's files, but they, too, have been left to wonder about what might have been removed from the office. McGreal's lawyers have been jousting with Block's attorneys during the pretrial process known as discovery, in which representatives from each side request information and documents from the other. McGreal has asked for comprehensive information regarding Worldwide Primates, including financial data dating back to 1981; records regarding business dealings with Delta Regional Primate Research Center in Louisiana; all documents related to Shirley McGreal, IPPL, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; as well as all paperwork dealing with any illegal wildlife transactions he may have been involved in, and the actions of governmental authorities and U.S. embassies in countries where primates live. After more than a year of legal battling, Block has refused to turn over a single document.
"Nothing of substance has been accomplished since this thing was filed," says Bart Billbrough, the Miami attorney representing McGreal. "It has always been my concern that this case was filed not because somebody thought they were wronged but because somebody thought that they could either a) get the jump on the criminal investigation, b) harass and otherwise make life miserable for someone interested only in public good, or c) some other hidden agenda totally unrelated. Worldwide apparently thinks that Dr. McGreal is the instigator of a presently ongoing criminal investigation, and if she provided some assistance to government authorities investigating Worldwide or other related parties, it would behoove them to find out what information she has. I think their discovery requests and entire litigation may entirely be directed to that goal."
Billbrough's speculation about a link between Block's civil lawsuit and the U.S. Attorney's criminal investigation is lent credence by a couple of things. Block has attempted to take a sworn deposition from Christopher Terrill, who has no known connection to the Louisiana lab, but who was the producer of the highly critical BBC investigative report that detailed the Bangkok Six smuggling operation and Block's possible involvement. And Block has also requested all information McGreal has on file pertaining to Worldwide Primates, presumably including anything she might have turned over to law enforcement officials. In addition, Block, in refusing to answer written questions from McGreal's attorney, has taken the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination more than 40 times, a highly unusual tactic in civil litigation.
Coral Gables attorney Paul Bass, who is pressing Block's lawsuit against McGreal, says simply, "I wouldn't file anything that I didn't think was legitimate." McGreal's discovery requests, Bass claims, are largely irrelevant. "A lot of the things she has asked for just have nothing to do with the lawsuit," he says. "She is just looking for Mr. Block to provide documents she can use to continue her witchhunt and cause as many problems for his business as she can." Bass also pointedly notes that McGreal, like Block, has refused to turn over a single document.