Animal rescue group loses out on thousands after paying pilot to rescue dogs in Puerto Rico

LITHIA, Fla. - A small non-profit that helps foster rescue animals in the Bay area lost out on thousands of dollars after the pilot they paid to fly to Puerto Rico never went. 

Lori Hoffman with Heidi's Legacy Dog Rescue tells ABC Action News she paid Aircraft Owners Group $4,000 under a contract agreement that stated the company would bring back ten dogs and five cats.

Hoffman tells us she found out about the company after another animal rescue group paid for the charter flight also. 

After Hoffman wired the $4,000 to the owner Stephen Spande -- she tells us he came up with excuse after excuse on why a chartered flight couldn't go and pick up the dogs. 

Turns out, Justin Bartlett's Animal Rescue group from Palm Beach County also lost out on $4,000 on the same chartered flight. 

ABC Action News also found out GoFundMe recently deactivated a fundraiser linked to Spande's name after his fund for donations to help in Puerto Rico was flagged. 

A spokesperson for the company tells us they reached out to Spande, the campaign organizer, but they did not receive sufficient information about the campaign so it was removed.

In a statement, a spokesperson said:

First, it’s important to remember that our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means donors are fully protected.

Additionally, we have put multiple layers of protection in place to ensure the safety and security of all donors and campaign organizers. We deploy proprietary technical tools and have multiple processes to secure the platform. We also have a dedicated team that works around the clock to monitor suspicious behavior. We utilize tools that are on par with the financial services industry in order to prevent misuse. In addition to technical tools and a dedicated team, we have a community of 40 million users – when they see something they think might not be right, they tell us, and our team looks into it. In this case, the campaign was reported to us, and we reached out to the campaign organizer to collect additional information. The campaign organizer could not provide sufficient information and the campaign was removed. The campaign raised $650 from 3 donors online and we are in the process of fully refunding the donors.

 

Hoffman tells us volunteers with her organization have been trying to reach Spande, but they have not heard back from him. 

Spande, most recently with a Palm Beach County address, has nearly a dozen different aviation companies listed in Florida under his name. However, the only one listed as active is the company Hoffman hired, Aircraft Owners Group, LLC. 

We tried reaching out to Spande by phone, but did not receive a call back for a statement. 

Hoffman tells us she was able to connect with another Bay area shelter to bring back the ten dogs, and five cats. 

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