Money raised through Facebook pages and website pleas to save horses from slaughter instead allegedly fed a lavish lifestyle for trustees of an unregistered charity, according to the New Jersey attorney general's office.
The state sued NJ Horse Angels and its two trustees, Sharon Catalano-Crumb and Frank Wikoff, both of Phillipsburg, N.J. claiming they misused funds donated through Facebook, a blog and a website.About $145,132 was donated from September 2009 through September 2010 and court papers allege at least $61,422 was used by Catalano-Crumb for Atlantic City casino trips, shopping, meals and to attend a Toby Keith concert. The state alleges Catalano-Crumb bought jewelry for Wikoff -- also her boyfriend -- as well as sent cash to her son serving a life sentence in Trenton State Prison.
A phone message and email left for Catalano-Crumb weren't immediately returned. A phone number for Wikoff played a recording saying it was not in service.
The state's lawsuit seeks restitution for donors, the shutdown of NJ Horse Angels, fines and a ban for both Catalano-Crumb and Wikoff from working for any charity in New Jersey.
"We allege that these defendants defrauded donors for their own personal enrichment," Attorney General Paula T. Dow said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that animal lovers and other well-meaning donors fell victim to a con woman who used horse photos and sob stories posted online to tug at their hearts and to open their wallets."
NJ Horse Angels used several different names on Facebook, including NJ Horse Angels Rescue, NJ Killpen Horses, Horse Angels of Facebook, Camelot Auction Horse Angels and The Forgotten Angels. The pages asked for donations to save horses awaiting sale and shipment to slaughterhouses for pet food. NJ Horse Angels had almost 5,000 Facebook friends at one point.
While the state's probe found some cash raised did go to help horses, it also allegedly showed Catalano-Crumb mixed the group's money with personal funds, the state said.
The group's site, blog and Facebook pages have been removed.
In New Jersey, charities are required to register with the state -- there's more than 20,000 nonprofits signed up -- and are required to disclose financial data each year.
As a consumer, there are a number of things you can do to check up on a charity before you give hard-earned money to something that could be a scam.
Horse Rescue Charity Accused of Misusing Funds it Collected on Facebook