State Files Suit Against
Horse Rescue Group for Alleged Misuse
NEWARK – The Office of the Attorney General and Division of Consumer Affairs have filed suit against an unregistered charitable organization that solicited donations to supposedly save horses from being killed and processed into pet food, but used a significant amount of funds to pay the personal expenses of its two trustees.
The state’s seven-count lawsuit, filed in State Superior Court in Essex County, alleges that NJ Horse Angels and its two trustees, Sharon Catalano-Crumb and Frank Wikoff, used internet social networking sites to raise approximately $145,132 from donors between September, 2009 and September, 2010. An investigation by the Charities Registration and Investigation Section within the Division of Consumer Affairs found that at least $61,422 in donations were misappropriated by Catalano-Crumb and used by her for trips to Atlantic City casinos, personal shopping, meals, pre-paid phone cards and cash withdrawals. She allegedly bought jewelry for Wikoff, who is her boyfriend and a convicted felon, and also sent cash to her son who is serving a life sentence at Trenton State Prison.
An additional $9,000 is presently unaccounted for, as the investigation continues.
NJ Horse Angels, based in Phillipsburg, N.J., and Catalano-Crumb, 54, and Wikoff, 55, are charged with multiple violations of the state’s Charitable Registration and Investigation Act. The lawsuit seeks restitution for donors, closure of NJ Horse Angels and the barring of Catalano-Crumb and Wikoff from working for any charitable organization in New Jersey, in addition to imposition of civil penalties. They both reside in Phillipsburg.
“We allege that these defendants defrauded donors for their own personal enrichment,” Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. “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 operated under several different names, including NJ Horse Angels Rescue, NJ Killpen Horses, Horse Angels of Facebook, Camelot Auction Horse Angels, and The Forgotten Angels. The common claim was that horses fated to be sold and sent to slaughterhouses for processing into pet food would be saved and then cared for by NJ Horse Angels through donations. NJ Horse Angels had more than 4,900 registered friends on one social networking website.
The investigation by the Division of Consumer Affairs found that Catalano-Crumb commingled donations in her personal bank account. The investigation also found that some of the donations were used to rescue, transport and care for horses.
“This case illustrates how con artists can use sad stories and photos posted on social networking sites to defraud donors,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “Our Charities Registration Unit is a resource that consumers can use to steer clear of individuals who mask their scams under the pretense of being a charity.”
Calcagni noted that registered charitable organizations are required to file annual financial disclosures with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
A searchable database that lists the approximately 20,000 charitable organizations registered by the N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs can be found online at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/charity/chardir.htm. A financial synopsis is posted online for each registered organization. Additional information and copies of complete financial filings can be obtained by calling the Charities Registration Unit at 973-504-6215.
Deputy Attorneys General Anna M. Lascurain, Chief of the Securities Fraud Prosecution Section, and Elizabeth R. Lash, are representing the state in this matter. Volunteer attorney Aris Dutka is assisting. Investigator Patrick Mullan conducted the investigation.
NJ Horse Angels Verified Complaint