SC leader taking Lowcountry nonprofit to court

Updated: Feb. 24, 2020 at 5:57 PM EST
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BERKELEY, S.C. (WCSC) - A South Carolina leader is now taking a Tri-County nonprofit to court after a Live 5 investigation showed it was soliciting donations despite being suspended by the Secretary of State.

Suzie’s Zoo Sanctuary for Special Needs Kitties is located in Berkeley County and the investigation revealed out the charity has been suspended since 2016. The state is now taking legal action.

There are more than 13,000 charities registered in South Carolina. The Secretary of State is tasked with making sure each charity is following the law. In order to be a nonprofit, you have to register as a “Charitable Organization” with the Secretary of State. You must also send in your financial reports every year so the state can keep tabs on how you spend donor money.

Our investigation showed dozens of nonprofits were illegally asking for donations while under state suspension.

“That’s very frustrating,” Arlyn Medaglia, who lives in Beaufort County, said. “If you don’t have that then people don’t know where the money is going.”

Suzie’s Zoo Sanctuary for Special Needs Kitties in St. Stephen is one of the suspended charities. After our investigation, the state issued a legal warning to Suzanne Melton, the CEO, for failing to turn in forms for 2016, 2017 and 2018. The Secretary of State also does not have a current registration statement for the nonprofit. According to Doug Renew, the Secretary of State’s Chief Investigator, Suzie’s Zoo Sanctuary for Special Needs Kitties owes the state $6,000 in outstanding fines.

More than a dozen people have reached out to us about the cat rescue, including Arlyn Medaglia.

"I kept saying, 'I'll bring food and treats...' Anything to initiate this 'oh yeah, come on by, let me get those supplies.' I didn't mind that,” Medaglia said. “But it never happened."

Medaglia said her interaction with Suzanne Melton started several years ago when a cat came walking through her backyard.

“He looked hurt, so I brought him over, cleaned him up and fed him,” Medaglia said. “He was with me for almost two years."

Medaglia said she took the cat, that she named Buddy, to get spayed and tested for certain diseases. She says she signed paperwork that, even if Buddy tested positive for FIV, a virus that affects cats worldwide, she wanted him back.

“Come to find out, he did test positive,” Medaglia said. “They called to tell me and they said they would not release him to me because I guess he was a danger to other cats... She did tell me she found a rescue that would take in FIV positive cats.”

That rescue? Suzie’s Zoo Sanctuary for Special Needs Kitties.

Medaglia said it started as a great relationship.

“She got on the phone with me and she told me all about her rescue and how there would be air conditioning for the cats,” Medaglia said. “It was great. I was so happy and grateful for her.”

But about a year down the road, Medaglia said she was getting fewer updates on Buddy.

“I kept telling her, 'well I will drive up there, whatever you need for your rescue like food, treats, litter, anything... I want to come see him,” Medaglia said. “For a while she said yes. But it kept falling through. Every donation I made, every ticket I bought for her open houses that never seemed to happen - it never happened. I never got to see him. Finally I got this text message, really short, saying ‘oh he got adopted.’”

And the people who contacted us said a very similar ending happened to them as well. Either they were told their cat got adopted or Melton just never responded. So we decided to go see what was going on.

Melton agreed to show us around her sanctuary, which is in her back yard. She said they cap it 100 cats being there and right now, they have 88.

There are several pens where the cats are kept. Melton added there are sheds with air conditioning in the summer and red lamps in the winter.

When we asked her about the multiple people who had reached out to us, she said most of those people have gotten information back. But she said her priority is taking care of the cats.

“When you're doing the work we're doing and have sick cats, the computer is the last option to work with,” Melton said. “Facebook - forget it. I don't have time. My priorities have got to be these cats."

Melton insisted if you’ve had a cat go there, you can reach out to her via email and she’ll update you on the current status. Melton said it costs about $2,200 a month to operate the rescue. But, because it’s currently suspended by the Secretary of State, she’s not allowed to ask for donations.

“We’ve got bills for food and expanding the habitat and getting new things to replace the old things,” Melton said. “These guys need a lot. We still take donations and my regular donors are helping out. They’re still tax deductible. They’re still legal. I just cannot fundraise."

Melton said she’s planning on making a trip to Columbia soon to correct the paperwork with the Secretary of State.

During this investigation, we also found out there is no agency that regulates or inspects an animal shelter or organization in South Carolina unless they provide veterinary services.

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