Dog Lovers Say Shelter Misused Millions

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A dog-loving couple claims in court that a shelter for German shepherds misused $2 million of the $4.7 million they donated to care for the dogs.
     The Ronald and Catherine Gershman Foundation sued Westside German Shepherd Rescue of Los Angeles and its founder, Robin Jampol in Superior Court.
     The Gershmans say they donated $4.7 million to the Westside German Shepherd Rescue (WGSR) from 2008 to 2012 “to provide care and adoption services for neglected, stray or surrendered German shepherds.”
     But the Gershmans say Jampol and the shelter “engaged in a self-dealing scheme to convert to their own uses the funds and property received for use exclusively at the Pontius [Avenue] facility.”
     The Gershmans’ attorney, Patricia Glaser, told Courthouse News: “The Gershmans are both dog lovers, and for many, many years have been interested in dog rescue.
     “They gravitated naturally to this organization, and put their heart and soul into it, so it’s unfortunate that the situation got to this point.”
     Jampol founded Westside Rescue in 2002 to rescue “German shepherd dogs from high-kill shelters and plac(e) them for adoption,” according to the complaint.
     Catherine Gershman, a retired certified therapist, says she began volunteering for, and donating to, the shelter in March 2008.
     “At that time, WGSR was struggling financially and relied on an all-volunteer staff. WGSR used donations and adoption fees to board the rescued dogs in a downtown Los Angeles warehouse under a freeway,” the complaint states.
     In 2009, the owner of the warehouse told the shelter it had to move out when its lease ended, according to the complaint.
     The Gershmans claim the shelter has moved about 10 times in 10 years because of Jampol’s “pattern of failing to manage the affairs of WGSR so as to stabilize the organization and its board.”
     Even though it was poorly managed and many dogs were “being held in squalid conditions,” the Gershmans say, the shelter’s “cadre of committed volunteers was able to rescue and place approximately 700-800 dogs for adoption annually. The Gershman Foundation believed that, were it properly organized and equipped, WGSR could develop into a significant force for animal welfare.”
     To help the shelter to stabilize and grow, the Gershmans say, they “donated millions of dollars” and “volunteered hundreds of hours of their time to lease, refurbish and outfit” a new facility on Pontius Avenue. They say they paid $840,000 for rent and $17,000 a month for property taxes and parking.
     Ronald Gershman, a retired psychiatrist, says he prepared budget projections for the shelter, and met with directors of other animal charities to teach Westside Rescue how to budget, run a complex charity, and hold fund raisers.
     He claims he consulted with “charitable organization management consultants” and condensed their advice into an “8-point plan to ensure that WGSR could be professionalized in such a way as to ensure that the Gershman Foundation’s charitable investment would not be wasted. WGSR agreed to abide by such requirements as a condition of receiving further donations.”
     But Jampol was not interested in running the new, more complex charity, Ronald Gershman says, so he, Gershman had to become its executive director.
     The Gershmans say they took many steps to “transform WGSR from an unstable charity which boarded dogs in appalling conditions into a modern, sustainable charity acceptable to institutional donors, boarding dogs in safe and hygienic conditions and employing the latest scholarship in dog training, health and behavior.” They say they set up a veterinary hospital, gave dogs medical treatment before putting them up for adoption, and created a program to match dogs with owners based on the dogs’ personality and behavior.
     “Upon its completion, the Pontius facility was unique among Los Angeles rescue organizations, featuring its own fully equipped veterinary facility” and state-of-the-art equipment, the complaint states.
     The Gershmans did not want to run the facility permanently. They claims that when Ronald Gershman resigned as executive director, Jampol did not try to find a replacement for him.
     They claim Jampol failed to keep accurate accounts, did not hold any fund raisers, and did not require board members to donate to the shelter.
     “Instead, they relied on the Gershman Foundation to continue to donate additional funds merely to ensure that the build-out and equipment costs previously expended to set up the Pontius facility were not wasted,” the complaint states.
     The Gershmans say Jampol’s failure to support the shelter financially hurt its image because “major donors and foundations prefer charitable enterprises to which board members are willing to donate their own funds and often refuse to donate where board member financial support is lacking.”
     They claim that Jampol also hurt the shelter’s image by “taking in additional dogs outside of the Pontius facility – sight unseen – in violation of the procedures established for WGSR. By doing so, Jampol imperiled WGSR’s reputation as a rescue that carefully screened its dogs, jeopardizing future adoptions.”
     They say that many of the dogs did not get medical care, training, or personality analysis before they were sent to foster homes, which often were not checked out ahead of time. At least one foster home “had previously been investigated for keeping animals in abusive conditions,” according to the complaint.
     Jampol kept accepting dogs even if the shelter could not afford to feed or care for them, which “jeopardized the long-term viability of the Pontius facility in particular and WGSR in general,” the complaint states.
     The Gershmans say they warned Jampol many times that they would cut off donations unless she set up a board of directors, hired professional managers with the experience and competence to run a complex charity, and raised money with fund raisers and grant writing.
     But they say Jampol ignored them, allowing directors to serve as managers and relying on the shelter’s website as her primary fund-raising method.
     The Gershmans say that when they realized that “Jampol did not intend to honor her commitment to professionalize WGSR into the type of high-quality charitable organization suitable for institutional donors,” they stopped giving their time and money to the shelter.
     Eight months later, the Gershmans say, Jampol abandoned the Pontius facility and moved Westside Rescue, even though the adoption fees and website donations were enough to cover all its payments at Pontius Avenue.
     The Gershmans claim Jampol and the shelter “gutt[ed]” the Pontius facility during the move, taking all of the equipment, computers and veterinary equipment so they could sell it or use it at the new site – even though the Gershmans donated the equipment “to be used exclusively at the Pontius facility for the rescue, care and adoption of dogs and the provision of community education services there.”
     The Gershmans claim that the shelter’s misuse of their donations, and the removal of their equipment, has cost them at least $2 million.
     They seek restitution and compensatory, consequential and punitive damages for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, subrogation, and constructive trust.
     They say that all the money they recover through the lawsuit “will be used exclusively to further the Gershman Foundation’s charitable endeavors.”
     Attorney Glaser is a member of Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs, Howard, Avchen & Shapiro.

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