Animal rescue accuses volunteers of withholding benefit money

Nonprofit says volunteers felt snubbed and kept funds out of spite

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 11, 2014

MADISON HEIGHTS — A charity benefit for a no-kill animal rescue and shelter ended on a tumultuous note when an argument allegedly broke out over whether the volunteers were getting enough credit.

According to the Animal Welfare Society of Southeastern Michigan, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it still had not received the money raised as of press time. Both sides have filed reports with the Madison Heights Police Department, each with a different telling of the tale.

“This is an active investigation,” said Madison Heights Police Lt. Robert Anderson. “I’m sure if the money was returned, we wouldn’t be looking into any possible charges.”

The charity benefit took place at the Century Banquet Center in Sterling Heights the evening of May 15, benefitting the AWS, located on John R north of 11 Mile. Several weeks later, AWS was still waiting to see several thousand dollars raised through raffle ticket proceeds and the winning bids for the auction items. 

It also hadn’t received any of the admissions paid in cash, although it did receive all of the checks used as payment.

According to Tamara Murawski, manager at AWS, the event had been planned by the volunteers, and they were all thanked in the event program and in at least four separate speeches that evening. However, the husband of one of the event volunteers allegedly thought this wasn’t enough and lost his temper.

Murawski said that shelter president Sue Edwards and her elderly mother were walking through the parking lot after the event, and a shelter employee was helping the mother carry the 50/50 basket since the mother walks with a cane. That’s when the husband of the volunteer, who was loading leftover food and other items in his vehicle, saw them and allegedly let loose with a stream of vulgarities.

“They tried to ignore him, but he kept going and calling them names,” Murawski said. “Sue and her mother just left the banquet hall in their vehicle.”

The husband of the volunteer then allegedly went back inside the banquet hall, grabbed a chair and threw it across the room.

“Three inches closer, and it would’ve hit me,” Murawski said. She said the husband cursed at her, as well. “I said, ‘Excuse me,’ and he said, ‘You support what they do.’ And I said, ‘This is about the animals; this is not about your wife.’ And he said, ‘This is about my wife. This wouldn’t have happened without my wife’s work.’ So it went on like this for a while before he finally stopped.”

The following day, May 16, the rescue’s in-house surveillance video allegedly recorded another of the volunteers, a woman, saying the shelter isn’t getting the money because she and her family worked hard on the event but weren’t given enough credit.

She had originally come to return the money and unsold auction items, but Murawski reportedly couldn’t accept them since she’s not on the Board of Directors. Murawski said she asked the woman to come back that Saturday, but the volunteer didn’t follow up, or call or text anyone with the reason. The checks came in May 21, but the rest of the money and items remain unreturned.

According to Murawski, this volunteer is the leader of the four volunteers who allegedly caused the scene at the banquet hall. The shelter filed a police report.

So, too, did one of the volunteers, filing it against the shelter May 17. She cited the offense as “intimidation,” claiming that Murawski and Edwards had harassed them when they returned unsold hoodies and asked them to sign for the donations. Murawski allegedly refused, so the volunteers texted Edwards, who reportedly responded by saying she’s not dealing with them, and then accused the volunteers of embezzling money. The volunteer who filed the report also claims she has received several threatening text messages from shelter management.

As the investigation continues, Murawski maintains that AWS just wants to see the money that people donated specifically to help the animals. She also stressed that they do appreciate their volunteers at AWS, and that the nonprofit wouldn’t work without them.

“The shelter counts on our volunteers to help us clean and help us with transporting animals, and help us save animals since we’re no-kill and the animals need to be taken care of seven days a week,” Murawski said. “Volunteers are very important to us.”