POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 17, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 3:10 a.m. HST, Jun 17, 2011
A Circuit Court judge has frozen the bank accounts of a Hawaii island man who collected $40,000 in a year from donors worldwide who thought they were supporting an animal sanctuary.
Anthony Marasia, 36, of Honomu had solicited donations since 2007 through his website, lovetheanimals.org, with links on MySpace and Facebook, purportedly for animal protection, education and a sanctuary, officials said.
Marasia, originally from Pennsylvania, allegedly commingled donations with money earned from his only job — answering a psychic hot line — and used it for food, gasoline and personal items, said state Supervising Deputy Attorney General Hugh Jones.
Judge Glenn Hara on Wednesday ordered Marasia to provide an accounting for the expenditures of the donations in 90 days to the attorney general's office.
Marasia could not be reached for comment.
Jones said the state may seek restitution for donors.
After a five-month investigation, the attorney general's office filed a lawsuit March 1 against Marasia.
Jones said Marasia voluntarily shut down the website, on which he claimed 100 percent of the donations would go toward the humane treatment of animals and that donations were tax-deductible. The website was complete with photos of sick puppies, goats, bunnies and cows, Jones said.
The attorney general's office said it has not investigated whether Marasia actually cares for any animals or whether there is any semblance of a sanctuary.
Marasia allegedly failed to register his charity with the attorney general's office, used misleading and deceptive statements on his website, which are prohibited, and solicited money for a specific purpose and spent it on another, Jones said.
Love the Animals is not a charitable organization, and therefore, donations to it were not tax-deductible, nor was it incorporated as a nonprofit entity, the state said.
Jones said Marasia could be subject to civil penalties and possibly have to pay restitution, but he is not pursuing criminal charges against him.
"We mainly want to protect donors by putting a halt to it," Jones said.
Donors from as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia gave through PayPal as well as checks and money orders, Jones said.
Anyone who has made donations to Love the Animals should contact Jones at 586-1470.
Fake charities are the most underreported offense "because people don't know they've been scammed and are often embarrassed to report it," Jones said. "Any charity actively soliciting moneys from the public have to register with our office."
A list of registered charities is available at www.hawaii.gov/ag/charities.