UPDATED — State Attorney General sues now-defunct Forks dog shelter, owner
By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES –– The state Attorney General's office has filed suit against Steve Markwell and the now-defunct Olympic Animal Sanctuary of Forks.
The suit filed by Sarah Shifley, assistant attorney general, on Tuesday in Clallam County Superior Court alleges that Markwell, who operated the Olympic Animal Sanctuary from 2006 until Dec. 21 last year, failed to register the shelter as a charity and did not provide an accounting of how the more than $300,000 in donations he collected without registration were spent.
“Olympic Animal Sanctuary failed to account for how charitable money was spent,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a news release.
The state is asking the court to order Markwell, who is living in Forks, to repay donations, penalize him $2,000 for each of the state's five charges of criminal wrongdoing and issue an injunction permanently barring him from the unlawful conduct complained of in the suit.
After an investigation that began last December, the state filed five charges against Markwell, saying he violated the Charitable Solicitations Act.
The state said he solicited donations without registration, failed to file annual solicitation reports, failed to maintain books and records, and has two counts of failure to make required disclosures in website solicitations.
“I haven't seen the charges yet, so I really can't comment,” Markwell said Wednesday.
Last year, Olympic Animal Sanctuary came under fire from animal rights activists who said the animals were mistreated.
On Dec. 21, Markwell packed the 124 dogs he had in his warehouse shelter at 1021 Russell Road into the back of a semitrailer and, after three days on the road, turned them over to New York-based animal rescue organization Guardians of Rescue at a makeshift shelter in the Arizona desert on Christmas Eve.
The last 18 of those dogs were recently adopted by a California rescue agency, the Peninsula Daily News reported Tuesday.
Markwell dissolved the sanctuary's board of directors last fall and canceled the Olympic Animal Sanctuary corporation Jan. 2, shortly after its incorporation expired.
While Markwell received nonprofit status from the federal Internal Revenue Service in 2007, he didn't register as a nonprofit in Washington state until April 24, 2013, the state's suit alleges.
The suit says he raised $93,576 in 2009, $115,386 in 2010 and $151,220 in 2011 without informing donors he was not registered with the state as a charity, a requirement, according to the suit, of the Charitable Solicitations Act.
The state also alleges Markwell never filed annual solicitation reports with the secretary of state.
Markwell said he ran the sanctuary as a home for “dogs you'd rather see dead.”
Many of them, he said, had been condemned to death by courts around the country, and he took them in as an alternative to euthanasia.
He moved back to his pink warehouse in Forks in February.
Forks Police Administrator Rick Bart said in Tuesday's PDN that Markwell has several dogs and is possibly keeping snakes but that he “refuses to tell us how many he has.”
When asked Wednesday how many he has, Markwell said “a handful” but would not specify how many that is.
He also questioned Bart's statement.
“There's no way he knows how many animals I have right now — unless he's been trespassing,” Markwell said.
Sherrie Maddox of Port Angeles was one of the sanctuary's largest donors and has sued Markwell in an action separate from the attorney general's, saying he improperly used a $50,000 donation she made in July 2012.
Maddox's suit, filed in December in Clallam County Superior Court, alleges breach of contract and misuse of a restricted donation.
It asks the court to order Markwell to return the donation she said was made explicitly to construct a new building for the shelter.
Markwell said the donation was never restricted, nor would it have been enough to build a new structure.
A summary judgment hearing was set last Friday, but no one appeared, according to court records.
Markwell said the two sides were negotiating a settlement.
Maddox's attorney, Adam Karp of Bellingham, did not return phone calls requesting comment.
Olympic Animal Sanctuary was featured in national media outlets, including People magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and Markwell even said he had a reality television show in the works at one point.
But by last year, protesters had rallied against the shelter, fueled by a Facebook campaign that posted photographs said to have been taken by volunteers and the Forks Police Department.
Protesters stood vigil outside the shelter in November and December until Markwell drove off with the dogs, packed into crates he built, in the back of a semi owned by the sanctuary in the middle of the night.
Markwell is scheduled to appear in District Court in Forks at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday for a jury trial on a misdemeanor malicious mischief charge against him stemming from December, when he allegedly kicked the car of a protester outside the sanctuary.
Ferguson's office directed those with concerns about Markwell and Olympic Animal Sanctuary to contact Clallam County Animal Control at 360-417-2459 or the Forks Police Department at 360-374-2223.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: July 30. 2014 7:54AM