Dog rescue founders banned from managing nonprofits
After years of investigations into All Terrier Rescue, a judge approved a settlement in Marion County last week. The dog rescue operation, founded by Samantha Miller and her mother, Jeri Miller, faced complaints from neighbors, clients and regulators.
Under the settlement filed last week, the Millers and Roena Boehm, a director of ATR, are permanently barred from managing charitable organizations. Tori Head, who the DOJ said "acts as the public face" of Rescue Strong, is barred for three years.
Samantha Miller must also apply for a kennel license for her Scappoose property, which has operated without a license for years.
ATR and the Millers do not have to pay fines or awards under the judgment, but will not receive any of the roughly $187,000 that ATR had been awarded in the will of a Washington County woman who died in 2017.
If any of the defendants named in the lawsuit violate the judgment terms, they could face a financial penalty up to $300,000.
In the civil suit filed by the state of Oregon in October, the state argued that the Millers had misused funds for ATR since 1999.
The Millers had mixed the rescue's funds with their personal funds, lied to regulatory agencies, ignored questions from the Department of Justice, and disregarded laws and regulations for animal rescues and charities, according to the state's initial complaint.
The allegations against ATR and the Millers include mistreatment of the dogs in their care. ATR advertised dogs "as neutered or spayed, vaccinated, and vet-examined when, in fact, dogs have not been altered, were sick with Giardia, had not been fully vaccinated and/or did not have proof of vaccination," according to court filings.
ATR required potential adopters to pay the $160 to $300 adoption fees in all cash, usually meeting in a parking lot. ATR advertised dogs on the website PetFinder and held adoption events with PetSmart stores. After DOJ inquiries, both businesses stopped working with ATR.
Christine Swanson contacted the DOJ in 2017 after her aunt and uncle purchased a dog from ATR. "It was just a nightmare from there," Swanson said.
"I don't think people realize, when they look up rescues, that there could be fraud there. And once you discover that, boy, what a rabbit hole," Swanson said.
The Millers used ATR's revenue to pay their own living expenses. Samantha Miller told the state that the use of funds was appropriate because adoptable dogs were kept in her home, but refused to let the DOJ inspect operations in her home on the grounds that it was a private, personal space, according to legal filings.
Between 1999 and January 2018, ATR claimed to have adopted out 38,015 dogs. ATR had brought in more than $7 million in revenue since its creation, based on DOJ analysis of ATR's published reports. However, ATR had only reported just over $1 million in revenue in financial reports to the DOJ.
In November 2017, Columbia County officials confirmed they were investigating ATR for operating an illegal dog kennel, as they believed ATR was holding dogs at Samantha Miller's Scappoose home. The investigation came after years of complaints.
Miller had applied for a kennel license in 2009, but was rejected by the county. She then filed a lawsuit against the county, but a judge upheld the county's decision.
The 2018 complaint echoes the same allegations made by a 2006 DOJ investigation. Following that investigation, the Internal Revenue Service revoked ATR's tax-exempt status.
The organization more recently operated as Rescue Strong, after law enforcement inquiries led to the group's founders closing ATR and reopening an identical operation under a new business name with a false name and address.
Samantha Miller adopted an alias, Morgan Beach, for Rescue Strong's operations. As of Thursday, rescuestrongoregon.com redirects to morgonbeach.com, a slight variation on Miller's alias. A Facebook account linked on the website directs to a profile for "Lundy Finnegan."
On that profile, posts as recent as July 21 offer up dogs for adoption.
Miller did not respond to requests for comment. The attorney representing ATR and the Millers, Geordie Duckler, declined to comment.
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