Big-Game Hunter Says He’s Been Defamed

     TUCSON (CN) – A German man claims in court that Safari Club International kicked him out of the big-game hunting group for unproven financial misconduct and damaged his good reputation in the hunting community.
     Norbert Ullmann sued Tucson, Ariz.-based Safari Club International in Pima County Superior Court on March 17, seeking damages for defamation, breach of contract, and bad faith.
     He also sought an injunction to reinstate his nearly 40-year membership in the club.
     Ullmann says his family’s hunting tradition in Europe dates to the 1600s, and that he has been an active member of Safari Club International since 1980.
     The Ullmann name is well-known in big-game hunting circles, as it has been attached since at least 1995 to the Ullmann Award for European Big Game Trophy Animals.     
     He says that over the years he has helped charter more than 35 local chapters of Safari Club International all over the world, served on a number of committees for the group, and “received over a dozen hunting awards for his hunting activities carried out through SCI.”
     Safari Club International is a hunting and wildlife-conservation advocacy group with some 50,000 members and 200 chapters around the world.
     The organization is based in Tucson and Washington, D.C., and its sister organization, the Safari Club International Foundation, operates the International Wildlife Museum in the desert mountains west of Tucson.
     In the manner of an old-school natural history museum, the attraction displays hundreds of preserved animals and dioramas in a large building designed to look like a castle or fort.
     In 2000, Ullmann formed an Safari Club International chapter in Bavaria, Germany, which has about 100 members.
     According to the lawsuit, the byzantine trouble began with a boycott by some European hunters of the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Wildlife Conservation, a European hunting and conservation group, which Safari Club International had joined in 2002.     
     Ullmann’s Bavarian Chapter of Safari Club International (BCeV) was put in charge of collecting dues for the federation from SCI’s other European chapters and paying them annually.
     However, around 2011 the federation increased its dues and balked at demands to “conduct business in additional European languages,” according to the lawsuit.
     This prompted the Royal Spanish Hunting Federation, which had some of the same members as the various European safari Club chapters, to protest the federation and withhold dues. Members of various European Safari Club chapters demanded that the Safari Club International Foundation do the same, the lawsuit states.
     Ullmann says that, while this battle was playing out between 2012 and 2014, the dues collected from the European chapters meant to go to federation for those years were kept in a German bank account.
     According to the lawsuit, in early 2015 “certain members of SCI determined it was necessary to resurrect the relationship with FACE, particularly in light of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,” which is set for September 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
     Ullmann says that last April a past-president of safari Club asked him to meet with the federation in Switzerland “for the purpose of re-forging a relationship.”
     
     “The parties reached an agreement at this meeting whereby BCeV would continue to be a member of FACE,” the lawsuit states. “Pursuant to the agreement, BCeV would collect 2015 FACE dues from the European Chapters and pay the amount by the end of May 2015, with the remainder of the collected annual dues to be paid in ascending order at the end of June, July and August, respectively.”
     Ullmann says that his Bavarian Chapter “attempted to collect dues from the European chapters, but some chapters expressed confusion regarding prior indication of a return of the past dues and, to add further confusion, some chapters were advised by SCI that they were not required to pay the dues to BCeV,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, BCeV did not collect adequate dues prior to the end of May 2015 from the European SCI chapters to make the promised payment to FACE.”
     Since German law prohibited the Bavarian Chapter from using the dues collected between 2012 and 2014 to pay the 2015 dues, the chapter held that money in trust, the lawsuit states.
     “Consequently, on June 17, 2015, SCI paid the full amount of dues owed by SCIF to FACE for the years 2012 through 2015,” the lawsuit states. “SCI then asked BCeV to reimburse SCI for these dues by remitting the dues BCeV had collected from the European Chapters for the years 2012 through 2015 to SCI.”
     
     Agreeing to do so by July 2015, “BCeV … provided SCIF with a bank statement indicating that the required funds were being held in BCeV’s bank account and remained available to pay the FACE dues,” the complaint continues. “SCIF, however, refused to sign the contract, citing a boilerplate confidentiality provision contained therein that SCIF found ‘offensive.'”
     Ullmann says that this hitch left him in a quandary, so he “sent payment for the 2012 through 2014 dues, and the amounts collected for the 2015 dues – including the substantial amounts plaintiff caused to be donated to make-up the difference for non-contributing European chapters – directly to FACE,” the lawsuit states.
     Ullmann “personally remitted the balance of the 2015 dues owed to FACE by making a donation from the Ullmann Award for European Big Game Trophy Animals Family Foundation to make up the dues shortfall for 2015 to FACE,” the lawsuit states.
     This allegedly caused the federation to receive a double-payment of the dues owed by the Safari Club International Foundation for 2012-2015. And while Ullmann says the federation has since returned the double payment, the complicated “misunderstanding” has led to his expulsion from Safari Club International.
     In July 2015, Safari Club International suspended Ullmann’s membership based on “100 pages of emails containing only a few instances of innuendo and speculation as to any wrongdoing on plaintiff’s part,” the lawsuit states.
     “This dispute is ostensibly the culmination of a gross misunderstanding arising from plaintiff’s role with regard to a European Chapter of SCI,” the lawsuit states. “As the result of back-room, petty political maneuvering within SCI’s inner circle, SCI wrongfully and publicly accused plaintiff of unethical and illegal behavior and ousted plaintiff from the organization in violation of SCI’s bylaws and internal ethics rules and in breach of SCI’s duty of good faith and fair dealing owed to plaintiff a long-time, dedicated member of the organization.”
     Then, Safari Club International allegedly published notice of Ullmann’s suspension in the Safari Times, a club newsletter. Ullmann claims that the “publication was made by SCI to its 50,000 members with actual knowledge that it was false and with an intent to harm and defame Mr. Ullmann.”
     “SCl took the actions described above with knowledge that such actions violated SCI’s own internal policies, procedures and rules, and for the sole, predetermined purpose of excluding Ullmann from SCI and damaging his reputation within the hunting community and beyond,” the lawsuit states.
     “SCl and one or more Defendant Does have, in addition to the false and defamatory statements that evidence existed of any financial malfeasance or nonfeasance, published false and defamatory statements that Plaintiff’s business is suffering and that plaintiff stole and embezzled the funds from BCeV,” the complaint continues.
     Ullmann is represented in Tucson by Corey Larson, who did not immediately respond on Monday to an email requesting comment.
     Safari Club International attorneys did not immediately respond to emails and a phone message left at the organization’s Washington, D.C. office.

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