HiCaliber Horse Rescue: The Long Con and Financial Fraud of Michelle Knuttila

Guest View by Dixie Atkins

Is it about the horses? Absolutely. I love them, and so do thousands of others.

Man y of us became involved when it became obvious that Michelle Knuttila of HiCaliber Horse Rescue had created an entire lifestyle constructed on a foundation of fraud from willing donors, based on injured horses.

I’m definitely not PETA, nor do I claim to be. I do believe that all animals should be treated humanely, euthanized if needed, by someone who knows what they are doing. I can’t bear to think of any animal requiring multiple shots to the head and dying in agony, especially when funds were raised for precisely that purpose–to see a qualified medical professional whom, if necessary, could ensure a peaceful end.S

Something I’ve noticed is that in the posts I’ve seen, not one deals with the crux of the matter, and that is the sheer amount of financial fraud that Michelle Knuttila committed as the founder of HiCaliber Horse “Rescue.”

HiCaliber is a charitable organization legally recognized by the State of California and as such, bound by their laws. I realize that your blog seems to deal with the cult mentality, and I agree that many of Michelle’s remaining followers exhibit the same traits – but for many of us, the cult mentality is merely a baffling side effect of Michelle’s persona but doesn’t affect any of us out there attempting to accomplish the task of forcing her to answer for her crimes.

For those of us at the forefront, however, the fact remains that if monies are raised to support a charitable organization, the law states that the monies must be used for their intended purpose, yet they were instead being used to fund Michelle’s lifestyle– to the detriment of the animals she was claiming to “save.”

For the last two years, Michelle has raised over a MILLION dollars a year by running the long con. Much of that money did not go to helping horses, as she stated – instead, the monies were raised to provide her a multi million dollar property on which to live (which was trashed) a BMW, multiple vacations, as well as weekly cosmetic procedures such as nails and lip fillers, among other things. This would have been legal, had she declared a salary from the rescue – however, she did not but with no other source of income, she continued to use donor funds to maintain that lifestyle. The financials showing the improprieties have been sent into the various agencies involved in this investigation.

Her long con was this:
Purchase injured horses at auction for prices ranging from $250 -$450, plus she raised an additional $650 per horse for what she termed a “responsible rescue” fee. She claimed the responsible fee covered vet visits to ensure the horse was comfortable and treat their injuries, do their hooves, food to feed them for a month, and have their feet done, or to perform euthanasia if necessary. What outraged many was that many of the horses–well over a hundred in the last year alone–were purchased, and taken out and shot immediately, thereby eliminating the need for a months worth of feed, or any of the additional services that were claimed to be covered with that additional $650. By purchasing 5-10 horses a week and raising an average of $5-10,000, this enabled Michelle to continue with her lavish lifestyle despite having no other source of income.

Most of us agree that if an animal is sick, or injured, it may need euthanasia and we would be the first to call a vet when this need occurs. Michelle raised money for that purpose, but instead took the horses out to a spot on her property, thereby saving the need to pay a veterinarian, and with no accountability for the money.  Much of our outrage comes from the fact that the peaceful euthanasia for which funds were raised was not completed by a vet but instead the horse was taken out to be shot by someone who missed on occasion and required multiple shots, forcing animals to die in fear and agony. And yet the responsible rescue fee remained unaccounted for. Each week she claimed to have zero money to save horses, and this appears to be true – she even bounced checks that she wrote to pay people.

As I saw from a previous post, her follower claimed that Michelle performed surgeries, which means that once again, money raised for vet bills was not used for its intended purpose. The follower apparently does not realize that in addition to fraud, Michelle’s insistence on performing surgeries is against the law and also forced animals to die in extreme agony because she has absolutely no medical training – yet by raising money for a vet and using it herself, she violated even MORE laws.

What makes me angriest is that this woman led a million dollar lifestyle on the backs of donors, which was illegal in every way, by claiming to be FOR the horses, when in fact she was in it for her BMW, her vacations, purchasing expensive puppies [at $1500 apiece] her cosmetic upgrades, etc., despite having no other income other than that which the rescue brought in.

Her financials have been sent to the appropriate authorities, with various agencies involved, because they showed the pattern of fraud in black and white.

I don’t give a damn about the cult, or anything else. I DO care about driving this woman out of business because she has violated so many of the charitable organization laws they can’t even be counted. By focusing on anything but the true crux of the matter, it is discounting the work of so many of us who seek to bring her to justice, many of whom were threatened, harassed, vilified.

So please don’t do us a disservice by relegating this issue to an “us vs. them” issue, because in doing so it discredits all of the hard work and thousands of hours that many of us have put in to get her brought to the attention of the authorities.

I will sign my name because I am not ashamed of who I am, nor what I–WE–have done.

 

This photo purportedly of HiCaliber leading a horse to the “killing fields”.

This photo purportedly of HiCaliber truck with a dead horse in truck and a dead horse on ground behind truck.

About the author

Frank Parlato

Frank Parlato is the founder of the FrankReport, publisher and editor-in-chief of Artvoice, The Niagara Falls Reporter, Front Page and the South Buffalo News.

26 Comments

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  • Exactly thankyou as alot of us had been trying to point that out for years but were just called haters and because alot of us didnt live in california we were not taken seriously! I appreciste your article as it is spot on and correct!! One can only hope that the courts find that she is never ever able to have or work around any animal ever again and i believe she should get 30 days to find legal and permanent employment so that jer checks could be garnished to pay the damages and lawsuit and the fraud she committed on people. If she doesnt have haingul employment within 30 days then i believe she should rot in prison.. period seize all herbassets and sell them and pay what can be paid out those sales and throw away the key on her! Not all of us people that have horses are like her! She is vile, disgusting and a narcissist.. thankyou for speaking the truth!!

  • So, all I’m seeing here is that this Michele person is a dirty slob who suffers from some sort of PD, and thinks she looks good with too much lip filler- but that doesnt make her a cult leader.

    If she has committed fraud- then contact the proper authorities to investigate – but posting here is probably not going to stop any illegal activities that might be occurring in her horse rescue.

  • Donate for what? For 20 cents for one bullet. People who collect donations for a specific purpose should have to provide proof of all income
    and expediture, with proper accounting, which is also audited by the tax office. Otherwise the collecting of donations become a profitable
    business and serves the self-inrichment and leads to income which is not taxed.

  • I think the author of this article is just too fixated on Michelle K.

    I’m tired of hearing about this shit.

    Guess what? We have thousands of children starving to death every day. We have homeless families. Yet here we are fixating on a single fucking horse ranch. Stop posting this drivel, Frank.

    Bunny? Bunny Way?

    • You have serious issues. This woman conned people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and abused animals. Dozens of animals including horses, cows and dogs suffered at her hands.

      Perhaps many of the people would have donated to help starving children, if only they hadn’t fallen under her spell, which lead them to believe they were actually helping.

      Stories like this need to be told, because they serve as a warning for people to thoroughly research any nonprofit organization they donate to.

      The world needs fewer Michelle K’s, not more.

  • This is just horrendous. Reading the comments after this article shines yet more horror that this vile excuse for a human being inflicted on these innocent animals. There’s one thing defrauding people but it takes evil to put someone or something through such trauma. For what? Lip fillers and a car. What a low life piece of shit that woman is.

    Bravo to the people who have exposed this evil.

  • A well written piece, Dixie. Where there is evidence of mistreatment of animals emotions run very high. People have to take a step back, calm down a little and approach this case from a less emotional viewpoint. Thanks for a less hysterical, sensible post.

  • That’s rather underhanded for one’s comment to be relegated to a “guest view,” as though I actually wrote an article vs simply making a comment, don’t you think? You could have contacted me at my email address and discussed it with me first.It was my understanding that I was posting as a mere comment on an existing article.
    However, thank you for at least getting one actual part of the controversy posted so that people understand the many facets as opposed to relegating us to mere “horsey people,” or PETA members or other such drivel.

  • Finally, a sane horse post. The “cult” issue is a dead-end discussion, whether the topic is horses, NXIVM, or Amway/other MLM scams. Cults are protected by the First Amendment with respect to freedom of speech, religion, etc. However, crimes are not protected, in fact, quite the opposite. Crimes are defined by laws.

    • Thank you, Scott. She raised millions as a charity, and the funds did not go to their intended use. There are laws governing such acts, and the proper authorities ARE investigating. It’s frustrating though, when they were sent financials and other issues and the investigation takes so long. People can continue to send her money if they wish, and they continue to do so, although she has gone from a following of thousands to a mere 200 or so. We have damaged her efforts at continuing to bring in a million dollars plus a year; however,until the authorities complete their multiple investigations, the grift goes on.

    • 1. She frequently shot multiple horses at once because it was cheaper to have them picked up in bulk. 2. it wasn’t a vet saying they were beyond hope, it was M. And sure, she could make that call BUT she raised funds for their vet care and then didn’t use it. 3. A clean kill shot kills the animal immediately and it reduces the amount of blood that leaves the body (no heart beat = no pulsing blood) 4. horses are very sensitive to the smell of blood. If you want a hunting horse you have to train them to not freak out at the smell. 5. She was walking these guys into pools of blood to shoot them.

  • Thank you, Dixie. One horse Michelle brought back to her ranch for care was a foal, called Umbra – whose genetic deformity (a mishappen front leg) needed surgery. Time was of essence – her growing bones would not heal properly if she were to grow through a certain age. Michelle failed to provide her care$. MANY offered to help, a fund was started to raise what Michelle claimed was a price. Umbra had surgery performed; the cast was suspiciously unprofessional and the foal suffered away from scrutiny of a caring public. Eventually, the foal passed – Michelle did not inform her donors or those who were pulling for her. Apparently, Michelle cared so little for the loss of that baby, she she live filmed herself and a few others partying at the barn at the time Umbra died. In the background, a horse’s frenzied screams were heard. Michelle and her company did not explain but who all acted as if they were not hearing her – they were running up and Doan the barn aisle with loose foals, the goats and pig – laughing and joking. Days later, word leaked out that the foal had died and that was when it was realized that the horse screaming in the barn was Umbra’s surrogate dam – frenzied with grief still fresh. Michelle did not ever express any compassion in the loss of that baby. And never provided the vet records of the foal’s “surgery.”.

    This is one story of hundreds – of the horses and other animals that suffered and died as a result of neglect and harm wrought by Michelle.

    • Janwindsong does not make clear that Michelle waited too long to perform the surgery. I’d have to look back through my records, but I believe she waited a couple of months? Too long… “if” she even had the surgery performed. Many doubt it.
      In addition, there was Strangles, a very contagious disease at the ranch and the quarantine protocols were horrid. There was this young, susceptible foal in the middle if all that disease, along with substandard care.
      Michelle had the option to transfer Umbra to a very reputable rescue that had excellent medical care. Donations had even been raised for Umbra’s care, and Michelle refused, then put the surgery off for many more weeks.

      • One also cannot forget the over $5,000 dollars she raised in order to “save,” a horse Johnny Cade, yet all four of the veterinarians whom she claimed treated him denied any such contact and one stated that she merely called to ask him to order IV fluids for her, for which he did not charge. The horse died as a result of her lack of care, but all of the funds raised were not accounted for since in fact no vet ever took the horse on as a patient.
        These are only a few of such stories and those facts–and photos– are already in the hands of the authorities, as are the vet’s statements.

        • Don’t forget the money raised to buy a sling that never materialized. It was horrendous to watch how that horse suffered, watching a horse, that could barely stand, to walk outside the barn and watch him collapse onto the hard ground. Heartbreaking and all for the almighty $$$.

      • You’re right I didn’t make that clear the young fall was brought in with very clear evidence she needed intervention it was months before Michelle “sent“ the fall off premises for surgery months. In the meantime, many attempts were made to To transfer ownership faster or pay the surgical cost directly all of this was to get the full the attention she needed Michelle ignored all offers and it was weeks later that she reported that she had sent the fall for surgery

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