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• Special report: Destined to Die

By Bill Theobald
March 26, 2004
An animal advocacy group is asking a Marion County judge to take away the Humane Society of Indianapolis' control of a large endowment that helps fund the animal welfare organization.

Move to Act, formed last fall, filed documents in Marion Superior Court, Probate Division, that also ask that the Humane Society be forced to provide a more complete accounting of how the society has used the Mary Powell Crume Benevolent Public Trust.

The trust is now worth $3.4 million.

Paul Ponticello said Move to Act thinks too little financial information is being disclosed by the society.

The group also is concerned that the society has not provided documentation that previous Executive Director Marsha Spring reimbursed the society for personal purchases she made with the Humane Society's credit card.

Humane Society Board President Monty Korte said Move to Act is small and reflects the views of only its members.

Korte and Martha Boden, executive director, said it is time to look ahead and rally financial support for the society.

Korte said society officials have met with Move to Act and given the group all the financial information it has requested.

Ponticello said his group thinks the society needs to provide the public with more information about how it became mired in a financial crisis, running up operating deficits totaling about $3.6 million from 2000 to 2002. Society officials have said the organization might go bankrupt.

The document filed in probate court earlier this month asks the court to consider removing the society board members, who are the trustees, and replacing them with a board of three outsiders and two Humane Society representatives.

One issue society and Move to Act officials agree on: The society is having financial problems.

Humane Society assets have declined steadily since 2000, and the society has been forced to dip into its reserves. In fact, the board's internal endowment, called the Humane Society Charitable Trust, has been depleted, Korte said. It had a value of $4.2 million in 2000.

The principal of the Crume trust -- created with a bequest from a Dayton, Ohio, woman who died in 1935 -- has not been touched, Korte said. Instead, he said, board leaders believe it is important to maintain the principal and use only the annual revenue it creates.

Korte said reasons for the society's fiscal crisis include a decline in the stock market, which lowered the value of the society's investments; the failing economy, which caused people to donate less; and turnover in its development department, which hurt the society's fund-raising efforts.

Ponticello said Move to Act believes the society still has a credibility problem with the public. That is why the group is asking for more financial "transparency" and resurrecting the issue of Spring's use of the society credit card.

The Indianapolis Star reported in February 2002 that Spring used the credit card for personal purchases -- some during vacations on Florida's Sanibel Island.

Spring and board members said she repaid the society but refused to release documents that would verify that conclusion. Days later, Spring resigned.

Thursday, Korte said neither he nor the society's auditors were able to completely match all of the credit card charges to other documents that would show she had repaid the funds.

Instead, auditors concluded she had repaid the money by looking at the total amount deducted from Spring's check for personal purchases over time and comparing it with the amount of purchases reflected on her credit card statements and other documents. Total deductions exceeded the personal charges, Korte said.

However, Korte said the charges society officials counted as personal were, in part, based on items on the credit card statements highlighted by The Star. Korte said the auditors' conclusion was given orally, but he has now asked them to produce a written report.

Spring declined to comment and referred questions to society leaders.

Korte said Move to Act is dredging up old news.

"I don't think that this is a subject that the community is interested in," Korte said.

Call Star reporter Bill Theobald at (317) 444-6602

Public support declines

In recent years, giving to the Humane Society of Indianapolis has declined, and the animal welfare group has been forced to tap into its investment portfolio. Large operating deficits continue.

Direct public support
Net revenue
-$1.8 million
-$1.5 million

*Reflects capital campaign for new animal care center. Note: Audited 2003 figures not available

Source: Internal Revenue Service

Link: http://www.indystar.com/articles/9/132522-4179-009.html

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