Animal shelter director defends herself against theft allegations

Puppy in a cage at the Gallatin County Animal Shelter (Photo: Gallatin County Animal Shelter)
Puppy in a cage at the Gallatin County Animal Shelter (Photo: Gallatin County Animal Shelter)

SPARTA, KY (FOX19) - The director of the Gallatin County Animal Shelter is now under investigation for allegedly misappropriating funds according to the county sheriff. But she told FOX 19 Now's Lisa Hutson exclusively she's innocent.

Robin Costello says when she began working at the Gallatin County Animal Shelter four years ago, the place was a wreck. Animals were dying of disease and more than 90 percent of the ones that came in were put down. Since then, as the shelter director, she says she's worked hard to make it a no kill model shelter on a budget of only $36,000 a year. But now county officials are investigating her on allegations she took that money for herself.

"I'm not worried at all. I've put so much of my own money, my own time," said Robin Costello.

Costello says she's shocked to learn after taking a leave of absence due to illness from the Gallatin County Animal Shelter, the county is now investigating her on charges of misappropriating funds.

"I don't understand how they can accuse me of embezzling funds when I'm only getting $9,000 every three months to run the shelter. I don't have access to unlimited funds. I don't have access to county funds," said Costello.

Through a private contract with the county, Costello says she received $36,000 a year to pay herself a salary and run the shelter. She says she raised additional funds for shelter repairs through generous donations and grants. But now, the county's animal control officer Bobby Nunn is saying she kept that $36,000 for herself. After getting a call from a local store that Costello had wrote a bad check from the shelter account to herself, Nunn says he asked to see the bank records.

"I found out that she was paying out $9,600 every three quarters to her and her boyfriend so there was nothing left for the shelter. I had to do something so I turned it over to the judge," said Nunn.

"There had to have been something that would have arose that caught their eye that led from one thing to another," said Gallatin County Sheriff Josh Neale.

Sheriff Neale says his department was handed the case on Monday and is now investigating the allegations at the request of the Judge Executive.

"There is reason to believe something has happened with some funds that were allocated for the shelter. Now it is up to us to determine if those funds were used appropriately or misused," said Sheriff Neale.

"I get a check for $9,000. I do pay myself out of that check. I pay myself $450 a week for an 80 or 90 hour week. Sometimes more than that," said Costello.

Costello doesn't deny writing herself checks from the shelter account. She says that's the only way she is paid for her services. She believes the entire investigation is personal.

"It is definitely a personal vendetta and I don't care they can haul me into court all they want. I don't care. I don't have anything to hide. I don't care about these charges. The people of this county know how hard I've worked and I'm just concerned for the safety of those animals," said Costello.

Now that Costello is no longer in charge, the biggest fear volunteers tell me is the shelter will go back to euthanizing animals. Last week, Bobby Nunn tells us he put down four dogs he deemed vicious. Costello maintains only two of the dogs were vicious and accused Nunn mistreating the animals he brings in. Nunn denies that allegation.

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