Special Reports

Humane Society of El Paso moving forward in wake of Westerman's arrest, termination

Special report Humane Society on a...

EL PASO, Texas - The Humane Society of El Paso is known for all the work it does for homeless animals, but earlier this year, it made headlines when its executive director was arrested in connection to a fraud case in Ohio.

The arrest of Luke Westerman left many supporters of the Humane Society concerned about the impact on the organization.

Interim Director Julie Rutledge told ABC-7 it has been business as usual for day-to-day operations, despite the big blow the organization suffered in January when Executive Director Luke Westerman was indicted and arrested on 19 felony counts of theft and fraud in Ohio.

If convicted, those charges could land Weserman in prison for years.

The Humane Society of El Paso Board of Directors terminated Westerman soon after his arrest.  At that time, the Humane Society said, " We are committed to earning back the trust of the El Paso community."

In addition to the animals it protects, the Humane Society is also concerned about the community's perception of its organization.  Two seperate audits, internal and external, are being conducted to assure donors their money is accounted for. 

"We have many controls in place. We have a management team in place, the board in place, auditors have been here multiple years and we haven't had any issues.  We don't anticipate any issues," said Rutledge.

The interim director further stated the signing of checks requires multiple signatures, depending on the dollar amount.  Limits are also placed on purchase orders, which also require documentation.

There has been a major board shake-up since late last year.  In November of 2018, two months before Westerman was arrested, President Leticia Jimenez, President-elect Cori Harbour-Valdez and board member Maria Schneider all resigned after raising concerns about the allegations against Westerman.

They released a joint statement, in part, saying, "it's even tougher knowing that the board received fair warning months ago and any damage to the humane society could have been mitigated."

With new board members in place, and a job advertisement placed two weeks ago looking for a new director, the search is on for new leadership to move the organization forward.

Rutledge says the job was posted by specific requirements that must be met by applicants, including posted criteria and the successful completion of a background check.

"The organization's mission hasn't changed.  And it has never really revolved around one person.  It's the organization and where we are and where we're going," says Rutledge.  She hopes the community will continue to support, by adopting animals and making donations that keep things running.

Westerman told ABC-7 he is ready to fight the allegations in court. 

He sent ABC-7 the following statement:

"I love the Humane Society of El Paso and treasured my time there saving animals.  The state of animal welfare in El Paso has never been stronger and thanks to continued collaboration among animal organizations and the community's dedication to adopting, that will only continue."

LINK: Latest Humane Society of El Paso audit


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