After serving nearly six years as president of P.U.P. Laguna, Elizabeth Katherine Bauer resigned the top post last March and four months later was elected treasurer of the all-volunteer organization that supports Laguna Beach’s animal shelter.
Since Bauer had been a board member for six years, initially nominated to the post by the founding president because of her enthusiasm as a shelter volunteer, “it wasn’t something anyone would question,” Darcy Cramer, long-time secretary of Protecting Unwanted Pets, said last week.
“She did a very good job of faking it,” added Cramer, of Ladera Ranch, explaining that board policy required both the president and treasurer to act on financial matters.
She and PUP interim president Synthia Scofield, of Laguna Beach, who stepped into the post effective Jan. 1, had for several months tried unsuccessfully to obtain financial records from Bauer, who failed to show up for board meetings in January and February and resigned altogether in March. When they independently came across a financial statement late in May, they discovered a reason for her evasiveness, Cramer said.
“It came as a complete shock,” said Cramer, who took their findings to police immediately.
Laguna Beach police arrested Bauer, 40, of Mammoth Lakes, a lawyer and daughter of an Orange County Superior Court judge, for embezzlement and grand theft on May 22. She is suspected of siphoning $72,000, a third of the organization’s assets, for personal use over two years, according to police Lt. Jason Kravetz. Bauer’s arraignment is scheduled for July 5. She did not return phone calls to an office in Mammoth.
PUP’s remaining two board members have since discovered that Bauer also failed to file tax returns the past two years. “Her responsibilities were delinquent as well,” said Cramer, who recently requested an extension. “We’re looking under every rock,” she said.
The organization’s most recent 2008 tax statement showed gifts and income of $72,478 since 2005 and a balance of $250,828. The group spent $11,755 on animal medical expenses and $6,000 on shelter repairs and improvements that year, the statement says.
“It’s very bad for volunteers,” predicted Mayor Jane Egly, who expects financial supporters “will pull back” in the wake of controversy even in dog-friendly Laguna.
“It’s a terrible shock to everybody,” said Geneveive McMenomy, of Laguna Beach, the founding president of the Pet Responsibility Committee, which attained nonprofit status in 1979 after its origin as a city committee and has since changed its name to PUP. Early on, volunteers even paid the shelter’s utility bills out of their own pocket. “It was such a struggle at the beginning,” she said, remembering spilling tears of gratitude when a woman she escorted around the shelter wrote a $15,000 check, the shelter’s first major donor.
Today, PUP underwrites a rabies clinic, surgical procedures for injured animals and spaying and neutering, said Jim Beres, the Laguna Canyon shelter’s civilian supervisor. “PUP does a lot of good work,” he said. The city’s animal services officers are dispatched to pick up a menagerie of animals throughout town and in Laguna Woods under contract and deposit many of them at the shelter.
Two of three shelter employees are PUP members, McMenomy said. Besides caring for critters, which include animals set to be euthanized elsewhere that PUP volunteers have rescued, employees serve as go-betweens with local veterinarians, who neuter animals and patch-up injured ones. Practice manager Sarah Wilcox, of Canyon Animal Hospital, said a shelter employee sends a monthly invoice that reflects which medical procedures PUP intends to pay and what portion will be paid by the city.
Though no public funds are believed to be involved in the alleged incident, as a result shelter employees will not be permitted to serve on PUP’s board to avoid any appearance of a conflict, said City Manager John Pietig. “I have requested that these employees transition to liaison roles as soon as replacements for them can be appointed to the PUP board,” he said.
The losses have not endangered the organization’s ability to pay its bills, Cramer pointed out, though supporters fear the alleged embezzlement will harm future fundraising. “There are a lot of families who have been able to adopt pets through our resources,” she said.
In fact, goodwill for the shelter’s mission largely underwrote its recent $669,000 renovation after a destructive flood in December 2010. Private donations from the estates of Marjorie Nelsen and Jo Hannah Cisson, $362,000 and $225,000 respectively, supplemented $100,000 obtained from the city’s insurer.