A Bowerston-based organization that trained veteran service dogs has lost its nonprofit status and is the subject of several complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General.
Additionally, the property that Dogs 4 Warriors occupied is delinquent in its property taxes. The IRS has a tax lien on the property. A court ruling against the agency’s former director states that she owes Carrollton’s wife $ 33,616.70 for using her credit card.
Dogs for Warriors lost its tax-exempt status in 2019 after failing to file a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service for three years. In 2015, the last year the organization filed an application, Form 990 reported income of $ 80,351 and expenses of $ 98,555.
As of Friday, the Dogs 4 Warriors website, https://www.dogs4warriors.org, claimed that it was a nonprofit organization under IRS regulations and that donations were tax deductible.
Sheila Slezak was the director of Dogs 4 Warriors, which operated from her home at 35020 Gundy Ridge Road. The property is owned by her husband Andrew Slezak, a retired Ohio State Highway Patrol officer.
“We’re NOT still up and running,” Sheila Slezak emailed The Times reporter on Aug. 11. “We’re working with the Ohio Attorney General to ensure that whatever is required is completed.”
She wrote that the allegations against her and the organization were not true.
“Hopefully you know that anyone can write and file a complaint about anything,” wrote Sheila Slezak. “Even if they are wrong.”
Multiple complaints to the Ohio Attorney General alleging that a cabin built for Dogs 4 Warriors has been converted for personal use by the Slezak family.
“This company is promoting shelter for veterans who house their service dog for free. However, this charitable shelter is inhabited by the owner’s daughter … and a friend who lives in a dormitory combat veterans” Karley Fluharty of Jewett wrote in a complaint filed with the Attorney General on July 24, 2019. “Both parties have been living in this cubicle free of charge since October 2018.”
Her complaint mentioned an article in The Times reporter dated March 3, 2109 in which Slezak said she was accepting donations for the booth.
“Abusing and using America’s veterans is incorrigible,” wrote Fluharty.
More:The Dogs 4 Warriors program will launch on March 5th
Voter registration records the daughter’s home address as 35020 Gundy Ridge Road, her parents and Dogs 4 Warriors.
A violent criminal had previously stayed on the same property. Home on the Harrison County’s Common Pleas Court records is Michael E. Searls, convicted in connection with the 2016 armed robbery of an antique shop in Bowerston. The 40-year-old Searls is serving a 10-year prison sentence for a serious robbery.
More:Michael Searls was arrested in Ohio, West Virginia, in connection with crimes
Searls was a kennel master for Dogs 4 Warriors, according to one of several complaints Patricia Rizzo of Carrollton made to the Attorney General.
Rizzo is a former member of the organization’s board of directors.
“My affiliation with this fraudulent foundation, Dogs 4 Warriors and Sheila Slezak, was the biggest mistake of my life,” Rizzo wrote in a complaint. “I was incomprehensibly damaged by them.”
The statement was filed with the Public Beneficiary Law Division of the Attorney General’s Office on August 20, 2018. The package contains a letter she originally sent to the Belmont Correctional Institution in St. Clairsville, where inmates trained dogs from Dogs 4 Warriors. The same complaint relates the circumstances that led to her argument with Sheila Slezak over a credit card debt.
Rizzo wrote that while serving on the board of directors of Dogs 4 Warriors she was “cheated” into getting a credit card for Sheila Slezak and Dogs 4 Warriors in order to cover travel expenses for Slezak, three veterans and their service dogs, meals, accommodation and cars cover expenses for returning to Ohio after attending a promotional event in Margate, Florida in 2014.
Rizzo wrote that she gave Sheila Slezak an American Express card because Slezak said she lost her debit card.
“As a result, Slezak and her crew spent over $ 67,000 in expenses on this card in less than a year,” Rizzo wrote. Their complaint is that they stopped making promised payments on the debt.
She wrote that the credit card was used to purchase supplies for the prison, cubicle, and personal use.
Rizzo won a default judgment in Harrison County’s Common Pleas Court in July 2018 against Sheila Slezak for unpaid credit card debt of $ 33,616.70.
Sheila Slezak emailed The Times reporter that Rizzo and her case would have been dismissed if the lawyer she hired had submitted a timely response to the lawsuit.
“Your complaint is ridiculous,” wrote Slezak.
In a complaint to the Attorney General, Rizzo urged the office to stop Dogs 4 Warriors from taking money from people as a tax-exempt nonprofit.
She wrote that her experience with Sheila Slezak and Dogs 4 Warriors ruined her credit rating.
“Now I can’t rent a car, book a flight, or buy a pair of socks with my Amex card,” she wrote.
“I have to go to grocery lines during this pandemic, and I’m older because of their scam,” Rizzo wrote in a complaint filed with the Attorney General’s Office on April 27.
Sheila Slezak told The Times reporter for a March 3, 2019 article that her organization had placed 140 dogs in 31 states over the past four years.
In a January 2014 social media post, she announced the creation of Dogs 4 Warriors as a new program for her Ohio Valley K9 LLC company.
A complaint filed with the Attorney General’s office alleges Slezak sold a dog through the Ohio Valley K9 that was donated to Dogs 4 Warriors.
More:The Barnesville Police Department adds K-9 Dixie
Donald Harris of Waxahachie, Texas informed the Attorney General in January 2015 that Sheila Slezak had sold a dog to the Barnesville Police Department via the Ohio Valley K9 that he had donated to Dogs 4 Warriors. He estimated the retail price at $ 9,500.
Harris, himself a veteran, said Slezak alleged the dog named Dixie was imported from the Czech Republic and accused the village of shipping her from the central European country.
Dixie was a Barnesville police dog from 2014 until she retired in early 2020.
A question about the purchase price to the tax office of the village led to a transfer to the police. Barnesville police chief Rocky Sirianni said he had no information about the amount paid to Ohio Valley K9 for Dixie. He wasn’t the boss when it was bought.
Harris is one of three people who told the Attorney General’s Office in 2015 that Dogs 4 Warriors failed to provide receipts for dogs they donated to the organization.
Sheila Slezak told The Times reporter in an email that all 2015 allegations were being investigated by the Ohio Attorney General at that time and deemed unfounded.
“We have been cleared of all wrongdoing,” she wrote.
Another question about Dogs 4 Warriors concerns the proceeds from the sale of the Barrett Ball, a solid rubber dog toy invented by a New York veteran who received a service dog from the organization.
The ball was still on sale on Amazon in March 2020, with claims that 100% of all profits would be donated to Dogs 4 Warriors.
“We do not sell or receive monitor compensation from any product,” Sheila Slezak wrote by email in August.
As of Friday, the Barrett Ball was still being sold online (https://www.countrymax.com/spot-the-barrett-ball-rubber-dog-toy/), with a note about winnings going to Dogs 4 Warriors.
A company that sells the Barrett Ball, Ethical Products of Bloomfield, NJ, stopped proceeds to Dogs 4 Warriors after learning it had lost its nonprofit status with the IRS.
Company President Jonathan Zelinger said the late veteran James Hayes created the ball to withstand the rough treatment from the 85-pound German Shepherd named Barrett he received from Dogs 4 Warriors.
“I don’t know the people,” said Zelinger in a telephone interview on August 12th. “I’ve never met her. I’ve never been to her facility. All I know is that James spoke highly of her. There are a number of friends he made during his time at their facility that he’s still with.” keep in touch, all the veterans who also benefited from it. It seems that things got out of hand somewhere along the way. “
He said the money that would have been donated to Dogs 4 Warriors will go to another institution doing similar work.
More:The Bowerston-based charity offers service dogs to veterans
The complaints filed with the Attorney General are not the only challenges the Slezaks face.
The IRS has filed a $ 37,182 lien on the property at 35020 Gundy Ridge Road where Dogs 4 Warriors was located. Andrew Slezak is the owner of the record. The December 2019 lien is on file with the Harrison County Recorder’s Office.
Harrison County Auditor’s Office has an online record of $ 4,253.68 in arrears on property taxes.
After receiving replies from Sheila Slezak in August, The Times reporter tried unsuccessfully to obtain more detailed replies to the allegations made against her and Dogs 4 Warriors with the Attorney General.
Times Reporter emails to Dogs 4 Warriors in October and November were returned with messages stating they had not been delivered because the recipient’s mailbox could not accept messages during maintenance.
A call to the Dogs 4 Warriors landline number on November 10th resulted in a message that the number was not a working number. A detailed message left on the company’s mobile number on the same day was not returned. A fax number was disconnected or stopped working according to a recorded message received when the number was called.
No response was received after the questions were posted through the contact portal on the Dogs 4 Warriors website on November 10th.
No reply was received to a registered letter dated November 21 to Sheila Slezak and Dogs 4 Warriors.
Reach Nancy at 330-364-8402 or [email protected].
On Twitter: @nmolnarTR