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Grace Foundation in El Dorado Hills could permanently close doors

By: Penne Usher, Telegraph Correspondent
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EL DORADO HILLS CA - Without the help of the community or a settlement with the banks, The Grace Foundation of Northern California may have to close permanently. Grace, an equine rescue facility, has come under financial strain following the rescue of dozens of horses from a Susanville ranch, according to the facility’s representatives. Grace founder and CEO Beth DeCaprio called the situation a “nightmare” and accuses "attorney Tim Ryan, Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America, Dwight Bennett and the receiver” of “fraud” and “malpractice.” A question of responsibility is at the core of a lawsuit filed by Grace in the case of more than 50 neglected horses rescued by the foundation last year and the rising medical bills and basic cost to keep them fed. The El Dorado Hills based non-profit has taken the fight to court, claiming they were deceived by Wells Fargo and Bank of America when the foundation was entrusted with the care of the horses. She alleges the banks that foreclosed on the Whispering Pines Ranch in Susanville owned by Dwight Bennett are not providing money to help care for the neglected animals. DeCaprio would like to see the banks, who she says are responsible for the foundation’s financial problems, step up and fulfill their end of the bargain. “To date, Grace has incurred over $900,000 in debt and damages relating to the care of the Susanville horses and the number continues to increase each month. These ongoing costs have put Grace on the brink of bankruptcy and we can no longer continue,” DeCaprio said The ranch closed — at least temporarily — on Oct. 1. The cost of caring for the horses and their medical costs is more than $50,000 per month, according to the foundation. Banking officials deny the allegations, saying they are not obligated to help fund the care and feeding of the animals and are not the rightful owners of the horses. “Ms. DeCaprio’s claims against Wells Fargo are completely without merit,” said Julie Campbell, assistant vice president of Corporate Communications for Northern and Central California Region’s Wells Fargo Bank in a previous interview with the Telegraph. “Wells Fargo has never owned the Whispering Pines property or the horses that formerly resided there, nor were we involved in the horses being transferred to the Grace Foundation.” Bennett was arrested Oct. 25 and charged with 70 counts of animal cruelty and is currently awaiting trial. He denies all allegations. He is not in custody. According to DeCaprio, the banks illegally gave the horses to Grace and therefore does not have legal ownership of any of the horses. Without legally owning the horses, Grace cannot adopt them out and must burden the cost for their care, according to DeCaprio. To save the ranch, DeCaprio launched a Facebook and email campaign in late September. “Please help me to relay a positive message to the community. We must remain focused on how important Grace is to the 250 animals that live at Grace and the 6,000 children that benefit from programs each year. Strength comes when we remain united,” she wrote in an email to volunteers. All programs at the ranch are currently suspended. DeCaprio hopes to be able to reopen in about two weeks. DeCaprio urges people to contact the courts, banks and government officials to achieve resolution. For information on how you can help, visit http://thegracefoundationofnorcal.org.