This week Clallam County Superior Court Judge George Wood ruled that Olympic Animal “Sanctuary” founder Steve Markwell has to pay the state $30,677 for violating Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, RCW 19.86.020.
Of the total amount, Markwell must pay the state a $10,000 civil penalty and reimburse the Attorney General office $20,677 to cover the state’s costs and fees.
Last week, I reported that the Attorney General’s office requested a penalty of $96,000, which would have been $2000 for each violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
Obviously, Judge Wood didn’t agree, saying that “maximum penalty is not appropriate in this case” because “a distinction must be made between ‘intentional deception’ and ‘negligent or even reckless oversight.'”
Judge Wood goes on to say that “there is little evidence that (the) defendant intentionally violated the Charitable Solicitations Act in an effort to deceive the public and reap illegal gain. The solicited money did appear, in large part, to go to the general goal of OAS as advertised. The evidence fails to establish that Mr. Markwell lined his pocket with the gifts of well-intentioned owners.”
Another reason he gave for his ruling is that “thirty-three violations emanate from the same single act, i.e., the Defendant’s failure to register. In addition, the ten violations for failing to disclose that OAS was registered and that additional information was available, flow in large part from the same basic violation of failing to register.”
If you’ve followed my articles about the “Sanctuary” you won’t be surprised that I’m disappointed with Judge Wood’s ruling.
Before I explain why, I want to clarify that this ruling has nothing to do with Markwell’s treatment of the dogs. It’s strictly based on the judge’s interpretation of the Washington’s Consumer Protection Act.
If I understand the his’ ruling correctly, he based it primarily on whether or not Markwell intended to deceive donors. He also noted that the money was used to help care for the dogs “as advertised.”
I don’t have access to the evidence Judge Wood examined so I don’t know what he saw, but I don’t understand his ruling.
I think this email from Markwell telling donors he bought the trailer with the money they donated shows his intent to deceive them:
The letter specifically said that he asked for money to buy the refrigerated trailer for the “Sanctuary.”
Coincidentally the trailer was delivered a few weeks before Markwell loaded 120+ dogs into it and escape from Forks one night in early December 2013. So clearly, the money donors gave to purchase the trailer the donors bought was never used “as advertised.”
And why does Markwell still have the refrigerated trailer and pickup truck that the “Sanctuary” purchased for him? Was the money it spent on them used “as advertised, too?”
In my opinion, Markwell never intended to use the trailer to store food. After it arrived Markwell spent weeks building kennels in it for the dogs.
It takes awhile to measure, make, and fit more than 120 custom-made crates for the dogs. It also takes awhile to put together the logistics, buy materials, etc. for the whole operation.
So I believe Markwell knew what was going to use the trailer for when he bought it, and he intended to get the money from donors by telling them he would use it for food storage.
I also wonder if anyone looked at the “Sanctuary’s” financial statements to see there were receipts for all the expenses. If you’ve ever seen pictures of the “Sanctuary” you’d never think of Markwell as a meticulous record-keeper.
But like I said, this is just my opinion. The Judge made his ruling, and I can’t imagine either side will take further action.
The good thing is that Markwell was finally held legally accountable, albeit in a small way, for some of the things many people accused him of doing long before the Attorney General filed his lawsuit.
We should thank Attorney General Ferguson for responding to our messages and filing the lawsuit. I think he’s the only Washington official that’s taken Markwell’s actions seriously.
I just wish he could file animal cruelty charges too.