Hicaliber Horse Rescue ranch
One of the houses on the HiCaliber Horse Rescue property in Valley Center on March 2, 2018. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

Another former board member of HiCaliber Horse Rescue has come forward to tell inewsource she never saw financial paperwork or detailed receipts while helping to oversee the Valley Center nonprofit. The horse rescue is at the center of multiple local and state investigations involving fraud, animal abuse and improper veterinary practices.

Kelsey Nye said she began volunteering at HiCaliber in January 2016, eventually working on the riding, medical, adoption and social media teams. She was asked to join the board in the summer of 2017.

“It was something that I was really excited about,” Nye told inewsource Monday. “Prior to that, I didn’t know much about what was going on with the board or how they did their financials.”

During her six months on the board, she said any updates related to money came from Michelle Knuttila, HiCaliber’s founder and president – though there was never any paperwork.

“She’d say, ‘We owe this person this amount of money,’” Nye said. “It was just hearsay of what was going on.” Nye left the board in November 2017.

Three other former board members have echoed Nye’s statements – Miles Dunbar, Niki Avila and Daniel Grove. As documented in earlier inewsource stories, they said HiCaliber made inaccurate claims on annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service. Dunbar filed a complaint with the IRS about it. Grove – also HiCaliber’s former veterinarian – has shared equine medical records and his concerns with the California Veterinary Medical Board for its investigation into the nonprofit.

HiCaliber operates by soliciting donations from people around the world via Facebook and other online avenues. It has tens of thousands of supporters that pay for feed, vet bills, equipment and anything else necessary. Yet Knuttila’s spending and HiCaliber’s overall financials are also of interest to her critics, who allege fraud and misuse of funds.

inewsource found Knuttila spent thousands of donor dollars intended for rescuing and rehabilitating horses on late-night fast-food and bar tabs, mobile phone spy technology, Weight Watchers and other purchases from October 2013 to March 2015. The spending was sent to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office in February.

On March 2, the Attorney General’s Office prohibited HiCaliber from engaging “in any activity for which registration is required, including solicitation or disbursing of charitable assets” until it submits its 2016 financials to the state. The horse rescue’s PayPal account also is currently frozen.

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More in the series…

“Eyeballs, Del Mar and manure: More on HiCaliber Horse Rescue”
March 22, 2018

“HiCaliber donor funds used for mobile phone spying, Weight Watchers; documents shared with district attorney”
March 15, 2018

“HiCaliber volunteers say disease outbreak at Valley Center ranch not disclosed”
March 8, 2018

“Former board member and veterinarian details problems with finances, medical practices at HiCaliber Horse Rescue”
March 6, 2018

“Former HiCaliber board members distance themselves from horse rescue’s financials”
March 5, 2018

“Attorney General’s Office halts HiCaliber’s fundraising, spending for failing to file tax docs”
March 5, 2018

“Strong reaction to inewsource report on HiCaliber Horse Rescue”
March 3, 2018

“HiCaliber Horse Rescue ensnared in allegations of animal cruelty, fraud”
Feb. 28, 2018


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...