HiCaliber is now clear to fundraise after filing paperwork with the state. Board member Robyn Armstrong walks the property on Feb. 28, 2018 (Brandon Quester, inewsource)

HiCaliber Horse Rescue, a Valley Center nonprofit mired in allegations of fraud and animal abuse, was recently cleared to fundraise again after filing financial information with the state.

The action comes about a month after the Attorney General’s Office prohibited the nonprofit from soliciting donations because it hadn’t submitted 2016 paperwork detailing revenue, expenses and other disclosures required of nonprofits.

The paperwork shows HiCaliber reported taking in more than $1 million in 2016, the majority from contributions and grants.

HiCaliber board member Robyn Armstrong kicked off a Facebook Live video from the ranch on April 6 with the news.

“We have not been able to fundraise for the past month,” Armstrong said, “and we are about $40,000 in the red, so we have got some serious making up to do.”

Part of the controversy surrounding the nonprofit involves allegations of fraud and misuse of charitable assets. At least 10 local and state agencies are involved in investigating HiCaliber, including the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the California Veterinary Medical Board and the Attorney General’s Office.

inewsource’s ongoing investigation into the organization uncovered its founder, Michelle 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.

Knuttila said in an online Facebook video that the spyware was for catching a board member stealing documents; that the Weight Watchers charges were a mistake – she used the wrong debit card; and that restaurant charges were for taking out volunteers for appreciation.

Four former HiCaliber board members told inewsource they never saw the organization’s financials from 2013 to 2015, despite federal filings stating they had been shared with the board. One filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service and another – HiCaliber’s former veterinarian – shared equine medical records with the state for its investigation.

inewsource attempted to interview two new board members listed in the recent 2016 filings – Brittany Lindell and Kim Roeh – but both declined the request.

The two are no longer with the organization.

Knuttila did not respond to an inewsource request for comment.

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More in the series…


“Fourth HiCaliber Horse Rescue board member never saw financials”
March 28, 2018

“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 is 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...