Villa Chardonnay, an accredited animal shelter, with its 216 horses, donkeys and mules along with dozens more cats, dogs and other animals, living out their last days on the 31-acre gated ranch property in Hemet, may soon lose their last home thanks to one suspected investor thief.
Where these unwary old, lame, blind, crippled and unwanted animals will go by the end of the year is still unknown, if Monika Kerber can’t find investors to help her purchase Villa Chardonnay. There is nowhere else for them to go because of their age and infirmities, she said.
“No one wants them,” Kerber, president and CEO of the nonprofit Villa Chardonnay Equine and Animal Sanctuary, said, almost with tears in her eyes during a Valley News interview.
“Without this funding we will not be able to close on the property,” Kerber said. “And the animals will have no place to go. The animals we provide sanctuary for are the discarded, sick and formerly abused. They come to Villa Chardonnay to finish out their lives, otherwise they will be destroyed.”
She said some of the horses came from Mexico, Canada and Taiwan, and there are even a few wild mustangs from Wyoming.
Villa Chardonnay has a cattery for older cats and kennels for old dogs as well.
“They stay with us until they cross the rainbow bridge,” Kerber said.
Her plight and the hundreds of animals she and her seven full time employees care for and feed every day is laid at the feet of suspected fraudulent investor Ron Allen. Allen is suspected of taking thousands of dollars in rent and escrow payments along with reported real estate legal fees from Kerber and the sanctuary board of directors in the past year.
Villa Chardonnay was being leased from private owners with an option to buy on or before December this year. Villa Chardonnay, according to Kerber, put $100,000 down on the property but now may stand to lose that money as well, if the sale money isn’t found. She said if they have to leave in December, it will have cost the sanctuary $462,000, not to mention the home of the 300 sanctuary animals.
Kerber said she believes there may have been other investors or donors who gave Allen the money for the sanctuary that she never saw.
“We really would like to know if there are any out there that gave him (Allen) money for the sanctuary,” she said.
She said Allen convinced her that he and 11 famous sports team members were offering to help her buy her the ranch sanctuary for the asking price of $1.4 million. She said there may have been others he received money from for the ranch she never saw.
Allen is now under investigation by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for alleged fraud. It was also learned that in 2000, Allen claimed to be a sports agent from Henderson, Nevada, and pled guilty to stealing $36,000 from pro basketball player Jennifer Azzi and was sentenced to just under two years in a federal prison. Allen, 49, was originally indicted in October 1998 on three counts of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud in connection with the scam in which four professional basketball players, including Azzi, were the victims.
He has since been released and reportedly lives in Temecula.
Help is needed
Villa Chardonnay in attempting to recover from the alleged fraud perpetrated by Allen, Kerber said, “I will ask the readers to please help to secure their forever home since this will be their legacy, and if they cannot donate, to pass it into their friends and family members so the more we can share maybe there’s a person or person(s) with a big heart for animals and the possibility to help financially to purchase their forever home.
“They can live here until they die,” Kerber said.
Villa Chardonnay was established through grants and donors for the past 17 years.
The sanctuary is accredited through the American Sanctuary Association and is governed by Kerber and a six-member board of directors. There are seven full time employees, a weekly visiting and on call veterinarian, volunteer farrier who comes once or twice a week and other friends and volunteers. The animals need 40 bales of alfalfa each day and 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of grain a week, special supplements and medicines for their special needs.
The method used in the alleged fraud
Kerber was unaware of Allen’s past when he approached her about one year ago, posing as former professional sports agent and investment group manager representing basketball greats as Magic Johnson, Russell Westbrook and Jason Kidd. He claimed he and his sports clients would be able to help her.
Allen told Kerber that he came to know Villa Chardonnay through a former girlfriend who relinquished two horses to the ranch after visiting the property. She said she thinks she remembers the woman who gave up the horses but she does not remember him.
After that Kerber said she believed Allen who said he would loan her the $1.4 million needed to buy the ranch. She then gave him two months rent that was supposed to go the owners. She said she also paid thousands of dollars in attorney fees for so-called real estate expenses.
Allen uses personal account
The escrow was supposed to go through the Bank of America, but she said Allen put the money in his personal account, the Don Allen Investment Group.
He called her everyday with updates, she said; however, “He kept delaying and delaying it,” Kerber said. He told her the sports figures were in the process of putting the money together. She still believed he was telling the truth until a few weeks ago.
“He had all kinds of paperwork that looked authentic and even had a notary public,” she said.
Owners angry, may evict
She said when the property owner called, they were angry because they had received no money from Allen. She became aware of the possible scam. Now the property owner said they will force the nonprofit’s eviction in December by contract if they don’t receive the money, Kerber said.
Meanwhile, she said she called Magic Johnson’s office. Kerber said he did not appear at a West Valley Superior court hearing on the matter recently.
“He made our attorney so mad,” she said. “I still don’t know where he has the money.”
Johnson’s office said he could not recall meeting Ron Allen, Kerber said. The sheriff’s department was called and they are continuing their investigation into Allen and may refer the case to the FBI, Kerber said.
“He has to be the biggest scam artist you can ever imagine,” Kerber said.
She said he had a way of arguing with her when she questioned him that made her believe him.
“He even had IRS papers,” she said.
Kerber said she has no choice but to ask for help with the purchase from legitimate outside investors and donors, so she can still have a home for what she calls all of her “babies.” She said all of her rescued horses have names, and she knows them all. Blind “Charlie” heard her voice and walked over to her when she called out his name.
Her animals are well cared for
Kerber’s sincerity is clear. A drive through Villa Chardonnay’s three locked gates shows the hillside dotted with horses of all kinds. They may be old and infirm, but all are combed, sleek and trimmed as they should be. Many have the freedom to roam anywhere on the ranch outside of the pens and stables.
The cats in the cattery purr and welcome her and the workers as they climb the jumps and scratch their boxes. Others lay sleeping in their blanketed boxes.
Dogs, some old, thin and unsteady on their feet, wag their tails in greeting as strangers approach.
Kerber, who came from a Jewish family and immigrated from Mexico, said she always looks to God for her help and guidance with the animals she loves.
Her love of horses and other animals stems from the time she was a little girl in Mexico.
“I started getting animals out of the street and getting them homes when I was about eight or nine without my parents knowing,” Gerber said. “I even called the radio stations to help me place the animals.”
Kerber rescues first horse
She said she told her parents she was rescuing animals, but she never had picked one for herself. She rescued her first horse from a racetrack, calling it her own, and after it died, she said she was so heartbroken she felt she would never rescue another horse. But things have changed over the years when she found a palomino named “Chardonnay.”
“She was so beautiful.” she said.
Following a career in marketing for General Electric, Gerber founded Villa Chardonnay in Temecula. Her marketing knowledge helped her find donors and apply for grants to help the sanctuary grow. When she outgrew the property in Temecula, she leased the 31-acres just outside of Hemet three years ago with the option to buy the property after two years.
Now, she said her hope lies in recovering any money allegedly taken by Allen and in finding legitimate donors or investors in the ranch.
Visit Villa Chardonnay on Facebook or at www.villachardonnay.org. Villa Chardonnay is located at 31120 Kelstar Road in Hemet. Call (951) 791-3400.
Tony Ault can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.