Woman Arrested On Allegations She Ran Fake Animal Charity

Avatar BCR | December 25, 2008 25 Views 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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Woman Arrested On Allegations She Ran Fake Animal Charity

Web Site Solicited Donations To Organization Caring For Big Cats

POSTED: 9:50 pm EST December 24, 2008

A woman in Lake Worth tried to run a fake animal rescue replete with a Web site that appeared legitimate, state officials said.The Web site claimed the fake organization rescued big cats — tigers, lions and cheetahs — and you could help in this noble cause by sending a donation, WPBF News 25's Terri Parker reported.But it was all a big fake, down to the pictures of the cats and the names of the people who worked there, Parker said.According to a Web site for Rescue: Big Cat Organization, the organization has branches in Boynton Beach, New York and North Carolina. The Web site said the organization is "home to 150 of the world's most endangered felines, RBCO is a breeding zoo, a rehabilitation center, a housing facility and a research amenity."The big cat sanctuary turned out to be run by a woman who lives in a Lake Worth house.Florida Fish and Wildlife officers arrested Heather Southworth, 26, on fraud charges after receiving a tip that led to an eight-month investigation.Southworth has no big cat facility. Instead, she lives with her mother, who said her daughter never mentioned a big cat rescue."Kittens, you know, white tigers, things like that. She has pictures of them, but any further than that, no," Jackie Southworth said.Southworth had pictures of all kinds of big cats she said were born at her facility. She had a list of directors, animal experts, volunteers and a way you could donate money to help the cats."The Web site looked so believable, so legitimate that you want to contribute because you hear about the rescues, you hear about the tours, so you're thinking this is true and it turns out to be fiction," Florida Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro said.Jackie Southworth said her daughter suffers from mental illness and has always had a rich fantasy life."We have one cat, she lives on the roof, that's it," Jackie Southworth said.It was not immediately clear whether Heather Southworth collected any money. She told wildlife officers she did, but they said they're still trying to figure out how much.


Carole's note:  It would have been nice if the reporter had mentioned, as did the original reporter, James Scott of PlanetSave, that this was not Big Cat Rescue and that this woman was obviously trying to capitalize on our good name.

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457


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