The former communications director of a Washington, D.C.-based group that lobbies on behalf of the horse industry is accused of stealing more than a half-million dollars from the organization and using it to make payments on a home, two cars and what the organization called “a lavish lifestyle.”
Ashley Furst, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, was accused in a federal civil complaint filed in September by the American Horse Council Inc. (AHC) of taking at least $588,062 from the nonprofit and its charitable foundation during the eight years she worked for the organization.
Officials from the AHC did not immediately respond to a voicemail message left Monday, or a message left with its attorney, seeking comment on the nonprofit’s allegations against Furst, as well as any policy changes it may have made in the wake of the alleged theft.
Court records did not list a lawyer for Furst or her husband, Christopher, who is a co-defendant in the civil lawsuit but is not accused of taking any money. The lawsuit is civil, not criminal, although the AHC said has notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Fursts have been served with the lawsuit, according to court records, but had not filed a response as of Tuesday, Oct. 9.
Officials from the AHC accuse Furst of taking the money between her hiring as an office administrator in January 2010 and when she was fired June 25, 2018, three days after an AHC check to a consultant bounced due to insufficient funds.
“The AHC was perplexed that the check did not clear because the AHC’s bank statements clearly indicated there were sufficient funds to cover the check,” the AHC’s lawsuit reads. “The check was for a significant expenditure that is part of a key initiative for the AHC, and for which the AHC had already budgeted.”
Furst was fired when she reported to the AHC’s office for a previously scheduled meeting. She had been working for the AHC from her home in Colorado.
Furst’s duties, which eventually expanded to include communications director, included processing payments, membership invoicing and maintaining files and records – although the AHC maintains Furst never had sole check-signing authority. However, it did say she had online access to the AHC and the AHC foundation’s accounts, and that she had access to online financial services those two organizations used, including PayPal, QuickBooks, Salesforce and ADP Payroll.
With that access, the AHC alleges Furst stole the money in four ways, falsifying records to hide the thefts:
* Made $442,561 in direct electronic payments from the AHC and the foundation operating accounts to loans and credit cards in her name
* Wrote $63,082 in unauthorized checks from the AHC’s operating account to herself using her own signature or a forged signature
* Transferred $53,305 from the AHC’s Paypal account to her own or took from the AHC’s Paypal account to pay for personal expenditures
* Directed the AHC’s payroll company to increase her salary by $29,114 and falsified her W-2 tax forms to hide the increase.
In addition, Furst is accused of obtaining a $350,000 business loan in the AHC’s name and pledging its collateral for the loan. The AHC, which claimed it knew nothing about the loan, says the loan was cancelled before funds were dispersed.
Officials say Furst paid about $120,575 back into the AHC’s accounts from her own, leaving the organization at a net loss of $467,486.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado seeks compensation and a trust or lien for the AHC over all money it believes Furst took and all things she and her husband bought with the money. It also asks they be barred from transferring the stolen money or assets bought with the allegedly stolen funds.
The AHC lobbies Congress and federal officials on behalf of the horse industry. Most recently, one of the major issues it has been following is the implementation of electronic logging device regulations and other Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules that cover transportation of livestock and other cargo. Livestock haulers, including those transporting horses, have been given a temporary exemption from the new rules.
The AHC’s foundation has two major initiatives, the Unwanted Horse Council and a national impact study that measures the economic contributions of the horse industry across the country.
Morris Media Network Equine Group, which owns Quarter Horse News, is a member of the AHC’s Marketing Alliance, which provides funding for the Time To Ride program. Time To Ride seeks to connect non-horsey people with horse industry professionals and programs. Several industry organizations and businesses also are part of the alliance.
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