One of the horses that came to People for Horses in May.
In 2010 People Helping Horses raised over $1 million, but authorities say the non-profit’s former executive director misused the charity’s funds.
The horse rescue’s founder Gretchen Salstrom (pictured) has been under investigation by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office since 2011 according to officials. Investigators say they found multiple violations of the state’s Consumer Protection Act and Charitable Solicitations Act.
It is unclear why the misuse of funds was allowed to continue for as long as it did. The books were audited by Certified Public Accountant Terry Greer Inc. of Stanwood.
In May 2012, the Attorney General did their own audit. “Gretchen Salstrom was helping herself to money intended to help horses,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “She used the group’s money to pay for her own horse and dog-breeding business, and used the non-profit’s credit and debit cards for questionable travel and entertainment expenses.”
Not only did she receive a salary of $56,000 according to documents, but the organization reportedly paid her mortgage and utilities.
Jon Landers resigned from his role as President in July after six years with the organization. He reportedly took trips with Salstrom.
Salstrom asked donors for $100,000 earlier this year when the group took in 26 horses from the Skagit County Animal Control in May 2012. Several of the horses were on the verge of death. Court documents state Salstrom did not apply “all donated funds to the treatment and care of those horses.”
The Attorney General’s office has settled its case with Salstrom. She agrees not to participate with any non-profit in Washington for the next 10 years, and must pay a $5000 judgment.
Salstrom started the charity in 2002. Authorities allege in their complaint that the deception began in 2009. “In fundraising appeals, People Helping Horses said they offered a therapeutic riding program for kids with health challenges even though they had terminated the program,” said Assistant Attorney General Sarah Shifley, who handled the case. “They claimed they partnered with other horse education programs and schools. They said they checked up on horses after they were adopted from their shelter. None of that was true.”
Susan Moore was brought in to salvage the organization. She says that won’t be possible due to more than $180,000 worth of debts owed to large fundraising companies. So it will be lights out for People Helping Horses at the end of the month, despite the agency’s agreement with the state to make changes.
The charity has re-homed most of its rescues, but the apparent greed of the group’s founder has left four still needing a home for the holidays. If you are interested in giving a forever home to one of the horses, call Moore at 425-328-7107.
Moore says, “Before you give, even if your parents are giving to the organization, do your research.