A DOG charity founder has been forced to beg people to pay vet bills after a con woman stole £200,000 from her.
Sue Smith has helped more than 3,000 dogs and allowed Katrina Jones to take over the finances of her K9 Crusaders in Truro, Cornwall as she nursed husband Pete through dementia and cancer.
Later, she checked her bank account and found £212,000 missing. Jones, 56, was arrested and pleaded guilty to more than 29 theft and fraud offences with a value of over £500,000 and was jailed for six years in June 2015.
She’s been released having served half her sentence and Sue to fear she may con another charity. “She took me for everything I had when I was so vulnerable. I was nursing Pete through two devastating illnesses,” she said.
“She has left me with nothing. I had my own home and the rescue had £100,000 legacy a pensioner gifted us and she drank, gambled and smoked away the lot.
“She took £212,000. She admitted taking £88,000 and now I’m seeing photos of her on Facebook with dogs. I’m terrified she’ll do it again.”
Jones was wanted woman since 2004 when she appeared on Crimewatch for swindling three businessmen out of £394,000 and fled to Australia. In 2009 she returned with a new identity and befriended Sue on a dog forum.
Sue recalled: “I poured my heart out about how difficult it was caring for Pete. She even sent me sanitary wear for him. Nothing was too much.
“I needed to register as a charity and she showed me letter headed paper from the accountancy firms she claimed to have worked for and said she’d help.
“I was running back and forth to the kennels and trying to care for Pete so I was thankful she took some stress away.”
Pete died aged 79 in 2010 and it took all Sue’s strength to care for the dogs, so let Jones handle the admin and even trusted her with own money after she sold her house with £72,000 profit.
She recalled: “I said I wanted half to go in the rescue account and for her to invest the other half. She spent it all on clothes, drinking, smoking and gambling.”
In 2014, supporters expressed concern, saying Sue seemed withdrawn and isolated and asked questions about Jones. PayPal found suspicious activity on the charity account and sent an e mail to Sue who discovered all the money had gone.
Sue called the Charity Commission and police and Jones was arrested and jailed. Now, three years on, Sue is still struggling.
She said: “She left me with nothing other than the clothes I was standing in. People have to bring me food. The dogs suffer the most.
“We have kennels for 50 dogs, but only 26 are used because we can’t repair them. We’re turning away dogs in need.”
A dog Sue adopted, Tara, an eight-year-old German Shepherd, has arthritis in her back legs and needs laser treatment, hydrotherapy and medication or she’s in chronic pain.
“It’s absolute hell to beg,” says Sue. “Being unable to help Tara is heartbreaking, and when I saw Jones smiling on Facebook I felt like howling in rage.
“Rescues are so trusting and vulnerable. I want people to know the impact Jones’ greed has had on me and my dogs.
“If my story protects another rescue from this evil woman, our suffering hasn’t been in vain.”
To help, visit https://www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/k9vetbills
A version of this story appeared in the Daily Star Sunday which you can read here