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Phillipsburg horse rescue group trustees accused of defrauding donors ordered to pay up
A Phillipsburg-based horse rescue charity that funneled more than $50,000 into vacations, shopping and expenses for its two trustees was ordered to shut down and repay the money, the New Jersey Attorney General's Office said Thursday.
NJ Horse Angels, an unregistered charitable organization, solicited donations to supposedly save horses from being killed and processed into pet food, according to a news release from the Attorney General's Office.
Sharon Catalano-Crumb, 54, and Frank Wikoff, 55, both of Phillipsburg, could end up paying $581,000 under the settlement announced Thursday. It resolves a lawsuit filed last December by the state Division of Consumer Affairs.
The pair must pay back about $57,129 in misspent funds and $23,299 in investigative costs, the state says. They face more than $500,000 in civil penalties if they fail to pay all the money back in five years or violate other settlement terms during that time.
The division will donate the funds to registered nonprofit horse rescue organizations, according to the news release.
Catalano-Crumb and Wikoff collected $145,132 in donations to save horses from being killed then used about a third of the money to pay for personal, unrelated expenses, authorities said.
A state investigation alleged Catalano-Crumb used the donations to fund trips to Atlantic City casinos, personal shopping, meals and prepaid phone cards. She allegedly also bought jewelry for Wikoff, who was her boyfriend and a felon, and sent cash to her son, who is serving a life sentence at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, authorities previously said.
The funds were gathered from donors between September 2009 and September 2010. Some donations were used for horse rescues.
NJ Horse Angels has operated under several different names, including NJ Horse Angels Rescue, NJ Killpen Horse and Horse Angels on the Facebook social networking website, authorities said. NJ Horse Angels had more than 4,900 registered friends on one social networking website, authorities said.
Catalano-Crumb and Wikoff could not be reached for comment. Their phone numbers are unlisted.
The settlement also bars the pair from soliciting charitable donations in New Jersey. NJ Horse Angels also has been ordered to take down its websites that were used for soliciting donations, under the terms of the final judgment and consent order between the defendants and the Division of Consumer Affairs.
Reporter Pamela Sroka-Holzmann can be reached at 610-258-7171 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk about issues in your town at lehighvalleylive.com/forums.