A trainer at HiCaliber Horse Rescue works with a horse at the Valley Center ranch on March 2, 2018. (Brandon Quester/inewsource)

Two former board members of HiCaliber Horse Rescue said Monday they never reviewed the troubled organization’s 2014 tax filing, contradicting what HiCaliber reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

Miles Dunbar and Niki Avila said HiCaliber’s 2014 federal tax filing, called a Form 990, was inaccurate in stating financial information had been shared with its board of directors.

They reached out to inewsource three days after the state attorney general notified the Valley Center horse rescue that it was delinquent in its paperwork for recent years. The action prevents HiCaliber from soliciting or disbursing charitable assets.

The nonprofit is at the center of multiple government investigations over allegations of fraud and animal cruelty.

Dunbar, who served on HiCaliber’s board from its inception in 2013 through mid-2015, said he submitted a complaint about the inaccuracies to the IRS in March 2016 and allowed inewsource to see it for verification. He added that he was reaching out to inewsource now to “cover my ass, basically, for lack of a better term.”

“What the 990 states – that it was presented to each of its board members – is false,” Dunbar said. “My name was put on an official document that went to the IRS without my knowledge of what was being included in it.”

Avila served on HiCaliber’s board for roughly the same period of time and said she also was never shown the tax filing. Avila said she did not file a complaint with the IRS. She said she was commenting now, because “I don’t want to be included in something I didn’t have any input in, or signed off on, being sent to a government entity.”

HiCaliber’s founder, Michelle Knuttila, did not respond to a request for comment late Monday.

“If two board members are jumping ship the same day, that tells you things are a’happening,” said Paul Dostart, an expert in nonprofit law and a partner with La Jolla-based Dostart Hannink & Coveney.

“And those two have sensed which way the wind is blowing.”

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HiCaliber has a large network of supporters through social media but also a growing list of critics who take issue with the organization’s practices and allege animal abuse and financial fraud. HiCaliber has not filed tax information since 2015. The California Attorney General’s Office sent them the delinquency notice two days after inewsource reported on the government investigations, the critics’ allegations and the missing paperwork.

The office sent a similar letter to HiCaliber last year for failure to file its 2013 forms.

Knuttila told inewsource on Friday she and her current board of directors were not worried about the allegations. “We’re not doing anything wrong with the money,” she said. On Sunday, when asked about the attorney general’s action, she said the missing filings were “already being addressed/handled by our attorney and CPA.”

Local and state agencies looking into the allegations surrounding HiCaliber include San Diego County’s Department of Environmental Health, Vector Control Program, Code Enforcement and Sheriff’s Department; the California Veterinary Medical Board; the Inland Valley Humane Society; the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; and the Valley Center Fire Prevention District.

Multiple people interviewed by inewsource said they have been contacted by or are actively working with district attorney investigators from San Diego County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County, as well as the state Attorney General’s Office.


We’ll let you know when big things happen.

Brad Racino was the assistant editor and senior investigative reporter at inewsource. He's a big fan of transparency, whistleblowers and government agencies forgetting to redact key information from FOIA requests. Brad received his master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in...