Napiers operated Manatee animal shelter after state denied charitable certification

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 21, 2014 

A danger notice is put up outside Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary where over 300 dogs and other animals were discovered during a raid on the rescue organization. Tips led the Manatee County Sheriff's Office along with several other local and state agencies to execute a search warrant on the property in East Manatee on S.R. 64 Wednesday morning. TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- After their registration as a charitable organization was denied last year, Sheree and Alan Napier reportedly continued to operate their East Manatee animal shelter without it.

The state took no action against them, a state spokesman said.

The couple, whose animal sanctuary was raided by local authorities Feb. 5, continued to list a state registration number on their website Thursday, even though it expired more than eight months ago, according to state officials.

Such certificate allows the holder to purchase tax-exempt items.

It was unclear Thursday why the state took no action until last week.

In a letter dated Feb. 12, state regulatory consultant Aleta King wrote the Napiers' effort to reapply for a certificate had been denied.

The state gave the Napiers seven working days to appeal, according to Aaron Keller, department communications coordinator.

"We denied their application as a Charitable Organization when they reapplied in 2013. We have not issued any fines or taken any action against them," Keller emailed.

The letter to the Napiers stated: "Please be aware that operating as a Charitable Organization without being properly registered/licensed is a violation of ...Florida Statutes."

"Engaging in unregistered/unlicensed activities may subject you to potential penalties, including, but not limited to fines up to $1,000 per violation and possible criminal prosecution," the letter said.

Financial statements showed the Napiers used money meant to care for hundreds of animals on other things, the letter said.

"According to the financial statement submitted for calendar year 2012, of the $105,868 in revenue from direct public support, over $56,000 was utilized for expenses related to 'supplies;' 'printing' related to advertising and promotion; 'occupancy;' and 'insurance,'" said the letter.

Efforts to reach the Napiers' attorney, Peter Lombardo, were unsuccessful Thursday.

Lombardo said previously the couple is innocent of wrongdoing, and "the Napiers are absolutely able to care for those animals."

The Napiers took in many seriously ill animals to save them, and they would object to efforts by authorities to gain custody of animals confiscated from their farm, Lombardo has said.

No criminal charges have been filed, but the sheriff's office has said it is investigating possible animal abuse and fraud at the couple's shelter. King's letter cited the following violations:

• Seeking contributions without being properly registered after May 13, 2013.

• Solicitation for a contribution by means of deception or false pretenses.

• Failure to apply contributions consistent with a solicitation.

• Submitting false, misleading or inaccurate information in documents filed with the department or provided to the public.

Bradenton's Bishop Animal Shelter, for example, uses its charitable registration certificate to buy items such as food for the animals minus the tax, said Keith Pratt, shelter managing director.

"They're taking advantage of the taxpayers, and getting everything tax-free," Pratt said of the Napiers.

The Bishop shelter certificate lists an effective date, expiration date, and defines its exemption category as "501 (C)(3) organization," according to a copy of the certificate.

It's the responsibility of the shelter operator to ensure they're running legally, and the responsibility of store employees to make sure such certificates are updated, Pratt said.

A multi-agency law enforcement effort, including the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and Manatee County Animal Services, raided the Napiers' shelter and removed hundreds of animals, many of them in a distressed condition.

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube petitioned last week for custody of animals seized from the Napier's farm at 20010 E. State Road 64.

A hearing was set for 1:30 p.m. March 12 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, according to court papers.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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