Judge Wood issued a summary judgment order on April 16, 2015 which stated Markwell must pay $10,000 in civil penalties and $20,677 in attorney’s fees.
Failed to account for donor contributions; committed 48 violations of the Charitable Solicitations Act
PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Superior Court held that a charity that raised $360,000 for a dog shelter, but failed to register with the Secretary of State or produce required records of how the donations were spent, violated the Charitable Solicitations Act.
On Friday, April 3, in an oral ruling granting summary judgment to the state, Judge George Wood held that Olympic Animal Sanctuary and its founder and executive director, Stephen Markwell, committed 48 violations of the Charitable Solicitations Act. Judge Wood also held that Markwell can be held personally liable for all of the violations and that Markwell and the charity should be permanently enjoined from engaging in unfair or deceptive practices.
The court took the state’s request for monetary sanctions under advisement and will rule at a later date. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) asked for a maximum civil penalty of $96,000 ($2,000 per violation), and just over $20,000 in costs and fees. No written ruling has been issued yet because the monetary sanctions are undecided.
“Animal lovers who donated money to Markwell trusted that he was abiding by state law. He was not,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “The court’s decision ensures he will be personally liable for his misconduct.”
The AGO had accused Markwell of unlawfully soliciting and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations while not being registered as a charity with the Secretary of State. Markwell also did not file required annual solicitation reports with the Secretary of State. In addition, Markwell failed to maintain records of how the charitable donations were spent.
The AGO claimed these actions violated the Washington’s Charitable Solicitations Act, an automatic violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
Markwell registered Olympic Animal Sanctuary as a federal, tax-exempt non-profit organization in 2007. However, his operation was not registered in Washington as required by law until April 2013 when he was contacted by the Secretary of State.
From 2009 to 2011 Markwell reported that he raised $360,000 from public donations. Markwell also solicited donations in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013, but he didn’t keep records, so the AGO doesn’t know how much additional money was brought in.
Markwell no longer operates the Olympic Animal Sanctuary and surrendered the dogs to a shelter in Arizona.
The Attorney General’s action does not address allegations of animal abuse or neglect as those issues do not fall within the Consumer Protection Act or Charitable Solicitation Act.
Concerns regarding animal welfare should be directed to city or county law enforcement and local animal care and control agencies. Consumers with concerns specifically about Olympic Animal Sanctuary and Stephen Markwell can contact Clallam County Animal Control at (360) 417-2459, or the Forks Police Department at (360) 374-2223.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Alison Dempsey-Hall, Deputy Communications Director