Michelle Knuttila, the founder of the nonprofit HiCaliber Horse Rescue, spent thousands of donor dollars intended for rescuing and rehabilitating horses on late-night fast-food and bar tabs, mobile phone spy technology, Weight Watchers and other purchases from October 2013 to March 2015, according to financial documents provided to inewsource.
The money came out of one of HiCaliber’s PayPal accounts, an online payment system the Valley Center nonprofit used to solicit donations from around the U.S. and other countries.
Charities like HiCaliber must use all of their funds “in furtherance of its charitable purpose,” according to nonprofit attorney Paul Dostart. Some of Knuttila’s purchases, such as restaurants and bars, may be legitimate, Dostart said.
But, he said, “If I were the attorney general or IRS … my first question is: How did this late night fast-food and bar tab relate to carrying out the company’s business?”
inewsource obtained HiCaliber’s PayPal transactions from San Diego County under a public records request. The data covered a nearly 18-month period and showed donor names and emails, vendor information, and account balances. The county said it forwarded the records to the District Attorney’s Office shortly after receiving them.
A spokesman for interim District Attorney Summer Stephan declined to comment or confirm an investigation of HiCaliber.
The Valley Center horse rescue is embroiled in allegations of fraud and animal abuse. Critics allege the nonprofit’s funds are being used for Knuttila’s personal expenses, and horses are being excessively euthanized without a veterinarian’s involvement. At least 10 local and state agencies are involved in investigating the nonprofit.
The Attorney General’s Office has prohibited HiCaliber from engaging “in any activity for which registration is required, including solicitation or disbursing of charitable assets” until it submits its 2016 financials to the state. The horse rescue’s PayPal account also is currently frozen.
Knuttila did not respond to an inewsource request for comment, but on March 2, inewsource interviewed her at the HiCaliber ranch. She was asked: “Are you, or have you ever, misused donor funds for your own personal gain or enrichment?”
“No,” Knuttila said.
”Not a dollar?” a reporter asked.
“No. No,” she said.
Michelle Knuttila, founder of HiCaliber Horse Rescue, poses for a portrait at her Valley Center ranch on March 2, 2018.
Source : http://www.kpbs.org/news/2018/mar/15/hicaliber-donor-funds-used-mobile-phone-spying-wei/