WAFF Investigates: The Barefoot K9 Project - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

48 First Alert Investigation

WAFF Investigates: The Barefoot K9 Project

(WAFF) -

The Barefoot K9 Project is an organization based in Georgia that, according to their website, helps disabled kids get service dogs.

But clients say it may be cheating them out of money – and is now under investigation right here in the Tennessee Valley.

WAFF 48 confirmed the investigation spans at least two states.

IN ALABAMA 

Sheila Weaks is a mom in Lacey's Spring whose son has special needs. When she discovered The Barefoot K9 Project, she opened her heart -- and wallet -- to the organization. But now, Sheila says she’s sorry she ever got involved with them. 

Weaks said it all started when she came across an ad for The Project on Craigslist.

"I sent them an email explaining how my child was, his behavior at school, and got an immediate response,” Weaks said.

The organization sent her an application, and Sheila and Samuel were approved. 

Sheila said The Project told her a dog would cost $30,000, and that they wouldn’t turn anyone away for the inability to pay.

"Which was my main concern,” Sheila said. “We're lower-middle class. We can't just open our pockets and dish out $15 grand at a time."

The Project set up GoFundMe and RallyUp accounts for Samuel, where donations were placed. Sheila said there were certain days where donors said they would match contributions.

"It had brought his account up dramatically to the point they could hunt for his dog and start training,” she said. “He was so happy. He'd say, ‘Mama, how long is it going to take? Do I get to name it? When will I see it?’ I said, ‘baby you know you have to give them time.’”

But as it turns out, time wouldn’t buy Samuel his dog.

A TURN OF EVENTS

Coleen Miller, who is listed as a ‘former director’ on The Barefoot K9 Project’s Facebook page, conducted a Facebook Live video on the page with her concerns and to expose what she said was ‘really happening’.

"I just wanted to reach out to everyone that's being scammed...I have a lot of information and think you people who donated your money for a service dog need to know what’s happening,” Miller said. “He’s ripping off this nonprofit for money. He has no income. Everything that he spends is your donated dollars that you donated for service dogs for disabled people and children," Miller continued.

Sheila said the dollars are still rolling in for the nonprofit. She said she learned no family members are authorized admins on the GoFundMe or RallyUp accounts, so they can't shut the pages down.

"A lot of the parents put money in their kids’ RallyUp and GoFundMe pages and its going straight into his bank account,” Sheila said.

Sheila reached out to RallyUp.com in effort to shut the page down and get more information, and got this response:

“Hi Sheila,

We received your message over the weekend regarding your request for donor information from a particular campaign.

I tried to return your call, but was unable to leave a message, so I thought I’d follow up here.

We’re very happy to cooperate with requests for information from law enforcement. However, we can’t legally provide any private information to individuals that aren’t listed as an administrator on a campaign. I’m sorry that I can’t be more help to you there.

Please let me know if you have more questions, I’m happy to help however I can.

Thanks,

Heather

Rallyup.com”

Documents and records exposed by Coleen Miller show the money in the nonprofit’s bank account is going towards personal gain. Receipts show jewelry, handbags, and even a Caribbean vacation were all purchased with the nonprofit's debit card.

LAW ENFORCEMENT INVOLVEMENT AND THE FALLOUT

WAFF 48 obtained a law enforcement that shows Sheila filed a claim that she’s out $2,000. That complaint was filed at the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, where a source close to the investigation confirms they have an investigation underway.

It was also confirmed they’re sharing information with the Clinch County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia concerning similar complaints.   

So what’s next?

Sheila said she is busy with damage control at home; and wants to repay businesses, friends, and family members who donated to her and Samuel.

"There's a special place in hell for people who take advantage of special needs kids,” Sheila said. “And that's exactly what he did.”

WAFF 48's Leah Jordan reached out to the organization’s founder, Cecil Allen Brown. She messaged him on Facebook and left a voicemail on his cell phone asking for comment more than 48 hours before this story was published or aired.

He has yet to respond to either inquiry. 

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