Hernando County Sheriff's Office has arrested a couple for funneling $1.5 million away from the humane society as part of Operation Heartless.
Thousands of documents were analyzed over the course of three weeks by the sheriff's office major case units, particularly the economic crimes unit as well as federal partners.
The investigation found that Susana Arneson had been with the humane society since 2018 before leaving last year.
In May of 2019 there was a burglary at the humane society where Arneson called the burglars "heartless." Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis called it ironic because he says she had already funneled $300k from the humane society at that point.
The investigation also found that she bought cars, boats, and a house in that time, none of which were financed.
Nienhuis says the humane society discovered money missing from some accounts, which is what tipped them off that something was wrong. He also said that multiple checks had been diverted away from those accounts by Arneson.
The sheriff said they were working to recover what money they could for the humane society, but oftentimes in these cases the money is gone and they are only able to get back pennies on the dollar.
The woman's husband, Douglas O'Berry, has also been charged in the crimes, though Nienhuis says Arneson was the one with direct access to the humane society.
Each of them is charged with money laundering with specific intent, organized fraud ($50k or more) and grand theft ($100k or more).
The investigation how she managed to steal this money is still ongoing. The Sheriff's office is looking into her past tax returns after the IRS filed a few liens against her for the 2012 and 2013 tax years for a total of $400,000.
“The bottom line is the Humane Society may not be the first victim in this particular case," said Sheriff Nienhuis.
Lori Bainum, a member of the board at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, said she is in disbelief.
“We get posts from people that we’re just very thankful for her for her additional help, her care, helping to get hard to adopt, especially dogs, into families homes and people are very grateful," she said. “It’s a very sick feeling when you trusted somebody so deeply that they fully took advantage of it."
It also makes her question her motives and if at any point they were genuine.
“I would like to think because she’s a human being that she cares about animals but was it all just an act? I don’t even know how you start unraveling that," said Bainum.
She said while this slows things down, the shelter is going to be OK and has already begun the process of putting more measures in place to keep this from happening again.
"We’re strong, we have a great team, our staff is wonderful, we have great volunteers, our donors are very generous to us and we hope that they are understanding of the situation and we will move forward," she said.