Report: Minnesota big cat sanctuary spent funds on racy books, underwear


The founder and executive director of the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota used donated funds to purchase personal items that included two books by comedienne Chelsea Handler, women's underwear and hair-removal products, according to the Ramsey County District Court.

The 30-page "Assurance of Discontinuance" agreement says sanctuary founder Tammy Thies also received double reimbursements for some items, used sanctuary money for her personal property taxes in 2009 and 2010 and was paid more than $4,900 for use of her cellphone from 2009 to 2012, among other things.

The agreement, which is signed by Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Dukart and Gail Plewacki, the sanctuary's board chairwoman, states that the "findings in the Assurance do not constitute admissions by (the Wildcat Sanctuary) or its board of directors and should not be construed as such."

The agreement also says the board is accountable for getting its finances in order and lists, in detail, how the sanctuary must go about achieving that goal.

“Our agreement with the attorney general helps us focus on the most important changes we need to make to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past," Plewacki said, according to Duluth News Tribune.

If the sanctuary violates the agreement, it could face sanctions or legal proceedings, the agreement says.

The organization says the money used for Thies' property taxes has been repaid and the nonprofit's bookkeeping has been outsourced to an accounting firm, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

Thies, who remains the sanctuary's executive director, founded the nonprofit facility in 1999 with 10 cats on 10 acres. It is now home to more than 100 lions, tigers and other large cats on nearly 40 acres, which serves as a natural habitat for the animals, according to the organization's website. The Wildcat Sanctuary hopes to "inspire change to end the captive wildlife crisis."

The organization has been dealing with accusations of misused funds since March 2013, when sanctuary employees complained about Thies' spending. In April 2013, the president at the time issued a report finding financial impropriety on Thies' part. The sanctuary's board hired a law firm, which also found improprieties, the Duluth News Tribune says.

Thies wrote a letter and posted a video about the future of the Wildcat Sanctuary, which were published on the organization's website on Tuesday.

In the letter, Thies writes that she and the board of directors have learned a lot from the accusations and are taking the steps necessary to ensure they keep the public's trust. She admits that they made mistakes, which resulted in scrutiny, but stressed that the cats always did – and will – come first.

Thies also thanked the sanctuary's donors for their continued support.

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