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Don’t lose sight of One-Eye Willy in probe of Humane Society billing, says Society’s board

In Humane Society on March 26, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Several members of the Cedar Valley Humane Society’s board of directors on Wednesday morning expressed shock and confusion that Marion police officers and investigators Tuesday evening raided the Society’s shelter, at 7411 Mount Vernon Rd., and seized records.

The records included intake tickets, receipt books and billing records, said Humane Society board member Wilford Stone, an attorney with Lynch Dallas PC in Cedar Rapids.

He and other board members said any kind of errors in billing at the shelter is one thing, criminality associated with it is another.

“Could some things fall through the cracks, could there be some kind of accounting error or something?” Stone asked. “I’m not aware of that. But that could happen.

“Is there any intent or someone trying to intentionally steal or commit theft or commit a fraudulent practice? We have no knowledge of that. And no one has ever reported that to us that that is occurring.”

Marion Police Chief Harry Daugherty on Wednesday said his department, with the help of an agent from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, is looking at the shelter’s billing records to see if anything is amiss. The Marion department has been investigating the matter for about six weeks leading up to the Tuesday evening raid, the chief said. A citizen phone call prompted the probe, he added.

The board members at the shelter, which serves all of Linn County outside of the city of Cedar Rapids, said any problems in the books can be remedied.

But they worried on Wednesday that all the good that they said the shelter does could be lost in the headlines of the investigation.

The shelter, which has paid co-directors and seven other paid workers, depends on donations and the help of more than 100 volunteers to pay the bills and care for 3,000 animals a year. Just a month ago, the shelter board announced a $1.5-million expansion plan, saying it already had $500,000 in hand.

But board member Doug Fuller on Wednesday said the questioning phone calls were already coming into the shelter.

“Just what the heck is going on out at the shelter,” he said callers are asking. “And it’s difficult when you don’t have a clue exactly what you’re being accused of.”

Board member Peggy Fite said, “Whatever it is, we’ll fix it. But, ultimately, you can’t lose the picture that this facility needs to exist.”

Fite pointed to the 45 animals that the Linn shelter rescued from Ottumwa in recent weeks and is now nursing back to health. One of those is a dog with the name One-Eye Willy. Who would have taken care of him if the Humane Society shelter hadn’t? she said.

“Those animals were brought back to the shelter, and volunteers came in here on a Friday night to bath them. … And you know those animals are being adopted out now,” Fite said.

Susan Manson, one of the shelter’s co-directors, said news like the current billing investigation has the potential to harm years of hard work and community building.

“We rely on the generosity of our volunteers and donors, and without that, who else would provide this service?” she said.

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