Nonprofit wildlife group falls victim to theft

April 18, 2011 4:03:19 PM PDT
It takes in wild animals that people in the Houston-area just don't how to care for, or what to do with. Now Friends of Texas Wildlife has found itself to be a victim of another type of predator -- online credit thieves who emptied out the organization's account with fraudulent purchases.

Three orphaned raccoons are pulled from an incubator.

"It took them an entire day to find us. They looked all day Saturday so they ended up on my door Sunday morning," Janette Winkelmann said.

One by one, Winkelmann feeds them by bottle. Her passion is rescuing native Texas wildlife and releasing them back into the wild.

The Friends of Texas Wildlife has 50 at-home rehabbers that are licensed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife. But their nonprofit's future is in limbo after funds were stolen from the organization's account.

A bank teller broke the news.

"I said, 'What do you mean?' Because I knew we had around $29,000 in our bank account. And they said, 'Well, you actually have a balance showing $77,'" she said.

While she and other rehabbers had been caring for rescued animals, someone charged tens of thousands of dollars in airline tickets.

"In one day [there were] like 16 charges to finance tickets to Saudi Arabia, and I thought, 'That's absolutely impossible. The bank has just made a mistake,'" Winkelmann said.

Winkelmann believes someone used their debit card number from a previous purchase.

In the meantime, the bank has provided provisional credit during their fraud investigation.

But, with no funds in the bank, it's not like the rescuing stops.

Another rehabber is caring for marsh rabbits among other animals.

"There are a lot of species [and] specific formula that we have to use, plus a lot of out-of-pocket [costs]. All of our caging we have to have," said Lisa Wolling with Friends of Texas Wildlife.

Covering a five-county area north of Houston, they take in just about any animal.

Friends of Texas Wildlife takes in 1,500 animals every year and the calls keep coming in. To make matters worse, they are about to close on their first ever property to house their new facility this week -- all as the bank investigation continues.

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