Recovery from misuse of funds takes years
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2002:
SANTA CRUZ, Calif.; SEVIERVILLE, Tenn.–Catching alleged
misuse of funds by trusted executives can be difficult. Recovering
from the damage may be harder still, the recent experiences of tbe
Santa Cruz SPCA and Sevier County Humane Society seem to
illustrate–while some of the people involved with each organization
maintain that their major problem all along has just been unfriendly
Serving an affluent and picturesque California coastal
community, the Santa Cruz SPCA is just a long but pleasant commute
from either the Silicon Valley–the Santa Clara Valley on maps –or
The Sevier County Humane Society, in Sevierville,
Tennessee, serves Appalachian hollows (“hollers” in local dialect)
best known for exhausted strip mines, poverty, and country music.
Yet both are in comparable situations involving loss of
community confidence, embattled leadership, and no clear route
toward recovering stability and a good reputation.
The Santa Cruz SPCA debacle exploded into public view in
March 2002, after the board fired the third executive director it
had hired in four years, and asked Santa Cruz County plus the cities
of Santa Cruz, Capitola, and Scotts Valley for a 56% increase in
the amount it was paid to provide animal control services.
The Santa Cruz SPCA claimed to have lost more than $500,000
in fulfillment of the previous contract over the preceding two years.
County auditor Gary Knutson reported, however, that the
Santa Cruz SPCA owed the county $229,000 in fees and fines collected
but not relayed to the county, as required.
On April 20, Knutson added that in 1999 the then-Santa Cruz
SPCA husband-and-wife management team of Jo Storsberg and Brian
Taylor spent $8,355 on unauthorized travel, dining, and personal
purchases, using an SPCA credit card without board approval.
An informed source told ANIMAL PEOPLE that at least half of
the allegedly unauthorized spending involved legitimate expenses
incurred in connection with attending the Humane Society of the U.S.
Expo in Las Vegas, but few if any other organizations spend anything
like that much money just to send two people to a conference.
Continuing his audit, Knutson on June 18 concluded that the
SPCA had misused $715,000 in all.
“The audit also showed that public money had been used to pay
for a leased Audi” for Storsberg and Taylor, Santa Cruz Sentinel
staff writer Jeanne Harlick reported.
But Storsberg and Taylor departed in 2000 when the board did
not renew their contract, Harlick explained, and declared personal
bankruptcy, putting them apparently beyond reach–at least with any
hope of recovering the money.
The county reclaimed the animal control contract, but two
months of stalled efforts to negotiate a lease of the Santa Cruz SPCA
shelter obliged the county animal control staff to work out of
temporary facilities, boarding impounded animals with local
The SPCA board resolved on July 1, meanwhile, to disinter
countless animals from the 1.5-acre Pine Knoll Pet Cemetery, a
community landmark, and sell the property to repay the funds owed to
the county–although the exact amount to be repaid remained unsettled.
Said the Santa Cruz SPCA board of directors in a joint
statement, “The county claims we owe them $500,000 for not following
their budgets. We have agreed that we owe them $226,000 for license
fees that we collected and used to pay for animal control services,
but the claim for half a million dollars is unjustified and
absolutely disputed. All money was spent on animal control and
The notion of selling the pet cemetery was not well-accepted.
Charles Edward Graves, DVM, founded both the SPCA and the cemetery
in 1938. Roy Graves, his son, said there were at least 300
registered pet graves on the site, and hundreds of others left
The animals’ graves were excavated and their remains removed,
ANIMAL PEOPLE was told, but the plan to sell the cemetery was
stalled and eventually withdrawn when the site turned out to be
habitat for two endangered species– the Mount Hermon June beetle and
the Ben Lomond spineflower. The land may not be sold, legally,
until and unless a habitat conservation plan is approved by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Sevierville Humane Society fired former shelter director
Reba Click for alleged embezzling in August 2000. Click was
convicted in February 2002 of stealing more than $17,000, but
$80,000 remained unaccounted for, SHS board secretary M.C. Wilson
reportedly told Anna Garber of The Mountain Press.
Board member Dawn Elberson succeeded Glick until May 2002,
when newly hired executive director Riley Campbell and volunteers
found “dead cats, drug paraphernalia, and urine-soaked piles of
garbage” on the premises, according to Mountain Press managing
editor Jeannie Brandstetter. Campbell reportedly also found an
inoperable crematorium filled with partially burned and decomposed
remains, and numerous diseased and heat-stressed animals in urgent
need of help.
Campbell summoned emergency aid from other Tennessee humane
organizations. Officers of two of the organizations separately told
ANIMAL PEOPLE after the rescue mission that in their view the SHS
board should be prosecuted for neglect.
The Mountain Press meanwhile revealed a recent history of
management failures, including not filing documents required by the
state of Tennessee to keep nonprofit status, not remembering to bill
Sevier County and the cities of Gatlinburg and Sevierville for animal
control services, and allegedly paying $8,900 to Hal Johns, the
husband of board president Sheila Johns, for a “barn renovation”
that Campbell said was little more than a paint job. Sheila Johns
argued that the actual amount was $8,400, that substantial
renovation was done, and that her husband only relayed the money to
Campbell and office manager Fred Sawyer, whom Campbell
hired, ran into trouble in early August when the SHS board of
directors reportedly found that Campbell’s resume could not be
verified, while Sawyer had never submitted one. Reputedly a former
reptile trainer, Camp-bell had also made more than 54 hours’ worth
of cell telephone calls in barely six weeks to people believed to be
reptile dealers. Both Campbell and Sawyer resigned, apparently
taking the SHS drug use and euthanasia records with them.
Other humane societies may soon be going through similar.
At least a dozen prosecutions of former humane society
executives are pending elsewhere around the U.S., most of them
beginning after economic hard times forced boards of directors to
more actively audit the organizations’ accounts.
Most of the pending cases involve relatively small sums, but
the Los Angeles SPCA in late March 2002 sued seeking recovery of
$928,352 that former chief financial officer Kenneth Brookwell
allegedly took from a retirement fund.
The LA/SPCA, which paid Brookwell $73,140 per year in salary
and benefits, “contends Brookwell wrote at least 74 checks drawn on
the fund to himself, to his banks, to his credit card companies,
and even to companies building his home,” Associated Press reported.
Hired as controller in January 1996, Brookwell reportedly
won four promotions in as many years before going on disability leave
in July 2001.
Been there, done that
South of Santa Cruz, on the far side of Monterey Bay, SPCA
of Monterey County executive director Gary Tiscornia could testify
from direct experience about the difficulties that the Santa Cruz
SPCA, Sevierville Huame Society, LA/SPCA, et al can expect to meet
ahead. Tiscornia headed the Michigan Humane Society for a decade
after predecessor David Wills departed, leaving an unexplained
deficit of $1.6 million.
Bookkeeper Denise Hopkins was successfully prosecuted for
allegedly embezzling a small portion of it. Wills was successfully
sued in 1994 for taking money under false pretenses at his next stop,
the defunct National Society for Animal Protection, and was in 1997
convicted of embezzling from the Humane Society of the U.S., where
he was vice president for investigations, 1991-1994.
Wills was never brought to account for any of the missing
Michigan Humane money, however, and although Tiscornia was credited
with impressively rebuilding the organization, the losses had a
ripple effect evident even 10 years afterward, when Michigan Humane
cut back a discount pet sterilization program because tight funding
inhibited hiring enough veterinarians to keep it operating at all
three of the MHS shelters.