The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services today announced it has filed suit against Dade City’s Wild Things, a zoo in Dade City, and three of its corporate officers. The department seeks to shutdown fundraising efforts by Dade City’s Wild Things based on the department’s investigation involving illicit fundraising and financial issues.
Based on the department’s investigation, Stearns Zoological Rescue and Rehab Center Inc. and Dade City’s Wild Things Inc. solicited contributions, purportedly for the purpose of caring for animals at the zoo and for broader, in-field conservation efforts. However, non-profit funds were routinely transferred to the for-profit entity, Stearns Peat C Inc. A financial analysis of one year showed over $200,000 of non-profit funds were transferred to the for-profit entity. Randall Stearns, Kathryn Stearns and Kenneth Stearns are corporate officers and/or directors of the listed entities and acted in concert to solicit contributions.
Based on the department’s investigation, the defendants allegedly violated Chapter 496, Florida Statutes, by:
- Transferring large amounts of non-profit funds to a for-profit entity to be used for for-profit and personal expenses;
- Compensating corporate officers and directors after disclosing that such persons were uncompensated in their official filings with the department;
- Soliciting contributions without being registered with the department (even after receiving a cease and desist order);
- Falsely stating that contributions were tax deductible when their 501(c) status had been revoked years before;
- Failing to apply contributions in a manner consistent with that indicated in solicitations;
- Failing to provide documents requested by the department; submitting false information in response to an investigation; and
- Allowing a disqualified individual to be involved in solicitation efforts and to handle contributions.