Humane Society addition on hold

Published 2:09 pm Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Humane Society of Freeborn County’s plan to break ground in August for a new addition to the Albert Lea Animal Shelter is now on hold.

Humane Society Director Christa Stieler said she learned Thursday after talking with an Albert Lea Police Department investigator that the $150,000 that an anonymous donor gave the organization for construction is most likely gone for good.

Upon advice from its attorneys, the Humane Society opted to put the money in an escrow account with Albert Lea Abstract so it would be available when it was needed for construction.

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“We could disburse it as needed,” Stieler said.

The organization just closed its bid process for the addition and was planning to award the construction bid at the next meeting of the Albert Lea City Council, she said. Construction was expected to be completed by mid-November.

But on June 22, a search warrant was executed at Albert Lea Abstract and during that search, authorities seized computers and scores of files in connection to a criminal investigation against Freeborn County Commissioner Linda Tuttle, the owner of the title company.

Tuttle is accused of felony theft of about $48,000 through her title company. The police investigation alleges that between January and June of this year she took from six bank accounts to deal with her reported gambling debt at the Diamond Jo Casino seven miles west of Northwood, Iowa. On June 22, a judge froze the accounts.

Officials say the investigation is continuing and more charges may be filed.

“We believe our money is now gone,” Stieler said.

An anonymous donor offered the Humane Society $150,000 toward the shelter addition if the organization could come up with funds to finish the project. The public donated nearly $100,000.

Stieler wants to assure the public that their individual donations are safe. That money is in a separate building fund savings account in a bank, she said. But it’s now not enough to proceed with the project.

The director said when she learned of the loss Thursday she was angry and sad. “Today I’m just numb,” she said.

“We’ve been so full,” Stieler said of the number of animals at the shelter. “We’ve just gotten by thinking we have to make it through November,” she said.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Stieler said. “And now it’s just gone.”

“This is going to make this a constant struggle,” she added. “It already is.”