Questionable Spending at Animal Rescue
Published March 5th, 2014
GAINESVILLE -- There are new questions surrounding the finances of a North Central Florida nonprofit after bank statements show numerous questionable expenditures by the group's director—all on the nonprofit's dime.
The statements are for Phoenix Animal Rescue and cover only a 6-month period between Jan. 1st and June 30th of last year.
While the vast majority of purchases shown in these documents are related to the rescue group, there are—by our account—at least $300 worth of questionable charges that at least one professional says violate state law.
"I really started to question, you know, some of her other transactions and purchases," said Cathy Coe, a former board member at Phoenix Animal Rescue.
Coe served as a member of the board for two years. During that time, she gained an intimate knowledge of the nonprofit's financial inner-workings after the group's director, Michelle Dunlap, commissioned her to create a financial plan.
"Michelle sent me her most recent bank statements, along with an email that included information that she had used Phoenix money for personal use," said Coe.
Those bank statements—which were provided to TV20 for verification—show numerous monthly purchases to the online entertainment website Hulu, a subscription to Pandora, numerous iTunes and Netflix purchases, as well as a $175 charge to University Opticians.
"When I started questioning her our relationship definitely changed. She stopped sharing information with me and it wasn't too long after that that I had been removed from the board of Phoenix," said Coe.
In an interview last week, Dunlap told TV20 the purchases were all paid back in full and were in-line with common accounting practices.
"Those are allegations that are based on a snapshot of information," said Dunlap. "There's what's called a 'loan to shareholder' when you're a corporation, and you can loan money to a shareholder, and they can pay you back."
But Scott Krueger, a longtime Tax and Business Attorney in Gainesville, says a not-for-profit, by definition, doesn't have shareholders. He says state law actually prohibits nonprofits from making any loans to its directors.
"Since 1990, there's been a statute under Florida Statute 617, that says officers or directors of a not-for-profit company can not make a loan to themselves. Or the board cannot make a loan to that officer—and it's pretty black and white," said Krueger.
Michelle Dunlap contacted TV20 late Wednesday to say she misspoke during her interview last week. She said her CPA—whom she would not name—gave her the wrong advice about the loan to shareholder arrangement, and that she was misinformed.
She also told us the charges to Hulu were "for the Disney dog movies" her dogs would watch when she's away from the property. Hulu does not offer any Disney movies, however.
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