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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Minn. exotic cat sanctuary agrees to improve business practices

  • A sanctuary for exotic cats in east-central Minnesota has agreed with the state attorney general's office to improve its business practices after the head of the nonprofit acknowledged misusing thousands of dollars in donations, the sanctuary said Tuesday.
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  • A sanctuary for exotic cats in east-central Minnesota has agreed with the state attorney general's office to improve its business practices after the head of the nonprofit acknowledged misusing thousands of dollars in donations, the sanctuary said Tuesday.
    As part of the agreement filed in Ramsey County, The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone must hire an outside monitor for the next two years to improve the way it does business.
    The sanctuary's statement Tuesday did not identify the personal items that executive director Tammy Thies purchased. But the agreement filed in court said there was "extensive use" of the sanctuary's credit cards "for personal expenses" by Thies, the Star Tribune reported.
    Among the items Thies acknowledged spending donated money on included women's underwear, movies, hair removal products and two books by comedian Chelsea Handler.
    Thies also received "double reimbursements" from the sanctuary for the same expense, had an oil change paid for on her personal vehicle and a dog run built on her property, the document said.
    As part of the settlement with the attorney general's office, the sanctuary agreed to review and collect all expenditures due to be reimbursed, sanctuary spokesman Robb Leer said Tuesday.
    Sanctuary employees first made the allegations against Thies to the organization's board in March 2013. Later that year, the board placed Thies on paid administrative leave for a few months while an investigation continued.
    "Our donors have stayed with us even as we have stumbled and made mistakes," Thies, who was reinstated by the board as executive director, said in a statement. "They deserve a professional and transparent organization that unfailingly meets the needs of the animals they support."
    Founded in 1999, the fenced sanctuary about 90 miles northeast of Minneapolis is home to more than 100 lions, tigers, cougars and bobcats on 37 acres with natural habitats for all of the animals.
    The sanctuary has an annual budget of about $850,000, which includes staff salaries and the care and feeding of wildcats.
    "We have been working for several months to grow our business infrastructure to catch up with our tremendous growth," sanctuary board chair Gail Plewacki said in a statement. "Some of these challenges are just the result of a fast-growing organization that used to be small and run by one person (Thies) who didn't even get paid for years."
    Even before the agreement, the sanctuary said it already was outsourcing its bookkeeping to an accounting firm and had in place new policies clarifying how sanctuary funds are used for expenses.

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