JUNE 2, 2016 UPDATE: The rape charges have been dropped against Toney Converse. The civil suit, however, is still pending.
Four years ago, the Villalobos Rescue Center (VRC), featured on Animal Planet’s “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” moved from Southern California to New Orleans, mostly because of the opposition it faced at its original location.
As I wrote at the time in a story for i Love Dogs (that happened to be briefly featured in the “Pit Bulls and Parolees” episode, “New Orleans, Here We Come”), Kern County officials denied a request by Tia Torres, owner of the rescue and rehabilitation facility, to move VRC from Agua Dulce to Tehachapi, Calif.
So Torres packed up the dogs and relocated VRC to a former warehouse in New Orleans, where things have gone more smoothly. The shelter even survived natural disasters, including Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
But VRC may now be facing one of its biggest challenges ever. A lawsuit filed June 13 by Jennifer Stampfel claims that Toney Converse, one of the parolees featured on the reality show, “drugged her, raped her twice, stole her virginity, transmitted an STD to her, impregnated (her) and threatened to kill her,” according to the New Orleans Advocate.
Stampfel, a seminary student from Pittsburgh, Pa., wanted her name to be made public to “bring awareness to the situation,” her attorney, Charles Marshall III, told news sources.
In addition to Converse, Stampfel is suing Torres, VRC, Tahyo Tavern (a bar owned by Torres) and 44 Blue, the production company for “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” all for failure to supervise the former Tulane Green Wave running back who served more than eight years of an 18-year sentence from a 2002 drug conviction.
According to the Times-Picayune, Stampfel wants a trial by jury as well as general and special damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress. The lawsuit does not mention a dollar amount.
Stampfel’s ‘Disgusting, Defamatory’ Allegations
In the lawsuit, Stampfel said she first met Converse in April 2014, when she was visiting New Orleans and stopped by VRC. She returned to the city two months later to attend the Summer Hebrew Institute at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
While she and Converse were at Tahyo Tavern, a bar owned by Torres, Stampfel says Converse drugged her soda, and later raped her at the house where he was living. She reported the rape 14 days later, after finding out she was pregnant.
Stampfel then signed up for VRC’s Bully Boot Camp program for the purpose of confronting Converse about the rape and telling Torres, according to the lawsuit. In August, while confronting Converse at the same house where the rape had allegedly occurred, Stampfel said he again sexually assaulted her.
Converse’s attorneys told the New Orleans Advocate that Stampfel’s allegations were “disgusting, defamatory.” Converse insists the sex was consensual and plans to countersue for defamation.
Torres also said she will file a countersuit. “The true and innocent victims here are the dogs of Villalobos Rescue Center,” she said in a statement.
“What did they ever do to her that warrants taking away the donations used to feed them, house them, treat them for deadly heartworm disease and ultimately get them to a new home? What kind of person wants to be responsible for causing irreparable damage to hundreds…no, thousands of homeless dogs?”
I’m with Torres. If Stampfel’s allegations are true, I don’t understand why — and think it’s very unfortunate — that she is including VRC in her lawsuit. The rescue had no direct involvement with the two incidents. Suing VRC just creates more victims.
Two Satellite VRC Locations to Close, Sanctuary to Open
“This horrific lawsuit is not only draining us emotionally and physically, but financially,” VRC wrote in a news release today. “So with much thought, we have decided to close down two of our main satellite locations and consolidate the dogs onto a property that we have been given out in a rural country environment of Louisiana.”
The new site will become the Villalobos Sanctuary.
“Although it will take quite a bit of time to get things settled in and built, this is a project we need to begin immediately if we are to get through these difficult times,” VRC wrote, adding that the project could begin to be organized as early as next week.
“In so many ways having a TV show can have its perks, but in other ways he can bring out the ‘ugly’ in some people,” VRC wrote.
“And the saddest part of all is that we as humans will move on and survive, but our dogs will not.”
The Villalobos Rescue Sanctuary Fund has raised over $137,000 as of October 2016.
“Pit Bulls and Parolees” will return with new episodes on Animal Planet Aug. 5, 2017.