DA: No criminal charges to come from animal shelter audit

Published 3:59 pm Friday, December 8, 2017

After reviewing the report of an investigative audit into operations at the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter, District Attorney General Tony Clark said his office would not be pursuing any criminal charges as a result of the findings.

Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson released a report on the findings of the investigative audit into the shelter on Thursday morning. The audit reported noted “a cash shortage” of $9,516 existed within the shelter as of June 2, 2017. According to the Comptroller’s Office this shortage was due to missing adoption fees; rescue fees that were collected by the shelter but later sent to the Friends of the Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Shelter group; fees for shots and microchips that were given to the Friends group; and money donated to the shelter that was deposited to the Friends group bank account.

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Investigators with the office also detailed a list of 14 separate operational deficiencies at the shelter and noted a lack of proper oversight of shelter operations.

In announcing the findings of the audit, Wilson said his office had reviewed its findings with District Attorney General Tony Clark.

Clark confirmed to the Elizabethton Star that he had been in contact with the Comptroller’s Office throughout their investigation.

“I’ve met with the Comptroller at least four or five times in the past five or six months,” Clark said.

When he received the final report from Comptroller investigators, Clark said he reviewed the findings with his staff and fellow District Attorneys General.

“In looking through this, and meeting with the auditors, I didn’t find anything criminal for us to pursue,” Clark said.

According to the Comptroller’s report, the cash shortage of $9,516 includes money that is missing as well as money that was collected but improperly distributed to the Friends of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter Group. The report provides a summary breakdown of the fund shortage: $280 in adoption fees for animals adopted through PetSense is unaccounted for; $6,682 in veterinary service fees that were collected and diverted to the Friends Group by former Shelter Director Stacey Heiden; $2,009 in collected shot clinic fees that were diverted to the Friends Group by Heiden; and $545 in check donations that were diverted to the Friends Group by Heiden.

“My interpretation is that money is not missing, it was just not properly transferred,” Clark said of the funds listed as being “diverted” by the auditors. “There is only a very small amount of money that is actually missing.”

While the auditors found several areas of operational deficiencies, Clark said “none of that falls under the criminal realm.”

There were two issues uncovered in the audit which Clark said could have potentially developed into criminal issues: the missing adoption funds from PetSense and the discovery that some pet owners had been allowed to “surrender” their animal to the shelter and then adopt that same animal back in order to take advantage of the low-cost spay and neuter service at the shelter.

Clark said those two issues at one point had the potential to develop into criminal matters, but due to poor record keeping it was impossible to determine who had taken the funds or taken advantage of the spay/neuter program.

Even if those issues had developed, Clark said they would have been misdemeanor offenses and too much time has passed to prosecute them. “The statute of limitations ran out on all of them,” Clark said.

According to Clark, during the investigation by the Comptroller’s Office allegations had been made regarding the selling of animals to “puppy mill” type breeders, inmate workers being allowed to administer shots to animals, and “a litany” of other allegations. Clark said no evidence was found to support any of those claims.

“At this point, I don’t see anything that my office will be pursuing as criminal charges,” Clark said.

If new information comes to light, Clark said he would review it then but, as far as he is concerned, his office is through with this investigation.