04/24/2002 11:00PM

HBPA probes ex-president

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The National Horsemen's Bene-volent and Protective Association has begun an internal investigation into the dealings of a company started by one of its former officers, Rick Hiles, HBPA officials said Thursday.

The investigation concerns a "possible conflict of interest," according to National HBPA president John Roark, a Texas lawyer. Roark would not provide additional details of the investigation, but several other HBPA officials said the investigation concerned a company set up by Hiles, the former National HBPA president.

The purported conflict of interest involved Hiles's company's relationship with Choctaw Racing Services, an Oklahoma tribal company that also dealt with the National HBPA, the officials said.

Hiles disputed that there was a conflict of interest and said Thursday that the investigaton was nothing more than "blowing smoke."

"I'm just telling them they better be careful," Hiles said. "I've got my attorneys, and they'll back me up on this and we can go through all the records if we want to."

Hiles said Century Consultants was set up to advise racing companies on simulcast and legal issues. The company's only client was Choctaw Racing Services, he said.

Choctaw Racing Services had previously paid the National HBPA a fee based on handle at offtrack betting sites it owns. The fees provided a main source of funding for the HBPA in 1999 and 2000. Choctaw now pays a flat fee each month, officials said.

Hiles said the HBPA's executive committee waived bylaws governing conflicts of interest when the company was set up in 1999. The waiver also applied to HBPA general counsel Don Sturgill, who resigned from his position last week. Sturgill performed duties on behalf of Century, Hiles said.

"I don't know where they are coming from," Hiles said. "They were told about it at the board meeting, and they waived the rights to it. They have all the records of it."

A task force has been named to investigate the matter, Roark said, and a Lexington attorney has been retained to assist in the investigation.

"It's kind of sensitive right now," Roark said. "At this point, we don't believe there is any criminal conduct here. It may have just been poor judgment. But that's what we're looking into."

The task force investigating the matter includes Roark, Arkansas HBPA president Bill Walmsley, Nebraska HBPA president Bob Lee, Florida HBPA president Linda Mills, Charles Town HBPA president Dick Watson, and Philadelphia Thorough-bred Horsemen's Association executive director Mike Ballezzi.