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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Head of Stevens County animal rescue convicted of theft

Carrie Aenk, of The Shepherd’s Way Animal Rescue, is shown in 2013 after claiming  a thief stole saddles and riding equipment from the  ranch. Donations to the animal rescue poured in, but neighbors and others later expressed concern about the truthfulness of Aenk’s report. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A woman accused of using her Stevens County animal rescue service to prey on people’s willingness to help by stealing their money will spend two months in jail.

Carrie L. Aenk accepted $3,000 from people who wanted to adopt three horses from The Shepherd’s Way Animal Rescue, but she never delivered the animals.

A jury convicted her of theft, and she will start serving her jail term Feb. 26.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Zappone wanted a stiffer sentence based on Aenk’s criminal history of fraud and theft that dates back decades.

“It appears that over the last 20 years that it has not slowed down, except for her stints in prison,” Zappone said of Aenk’s criminal past. “The defendant used this nonprofit as a way to exploit the goodwill of others. Essentially, she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

During trial Aenk and her attorney, Richard Wall, argued that the victims in the case, Dustin and Elle Hatfield, agreed to pay $5,000 for two horses, and the contracts clearly stated the adoption fees were nonrefundable. Aenk also said she didn’t deliver the horses because she had concerns that the Hatfields did not have adequate facilities.

“The Aenks were not comfortable delivering the horses,” Wall said Thursday. “I really believe if the Hatfields had been a little more patient, they would have gotten the horses.”

Spokane County Superior Court Judge James Triplet said such arguments directly contradict what Aenk said in texts and emails to the victims in 2013. He also said copies of the contracts submitted as evidence appear to bolster the Hatfields’ argument, made during trial, that the contracts were altered by Aenk after they were signed.

“There appears to be the whiting out or crossing out of numbers,” Triplet said. “If I had the originals I guess I could see what color the ink is.”

Aenk’s lawyer also argued Thursday that the money in question was for The Shepherd’s Way and did not benefit the Aenks.

Triplet said cash and checks made out to Aenk were given to her, not the animal rescue organization.

“The evidence is clear that the money went to Mrs. Aenk, not Shepherd’s Way,” the judge said.

Dustin Hatfield, a former soldier in the U.S. Army, told the court his disabled daughter had bonded with one of the horses they planned to purchase and was devastated by what happened.

Elle Hatfield said the family feared for their safety in the aftermath of the failed purchase.

The prosecutor, Zappone, said Aenk’s husband, Allen Aenk, made threatening Facebook posts about the case. In one post, which has since been removed, he refers to the case as an assault and claims Dustin Hatfield struck Carrie Aenk in the face.

There are no allegations of a physical assault by either Aenk or Hatfield in court documents, nor was it mentioned in court Thursday.

Zappone also said the Aenks have connections to militia groups.

In December, a self-described “angry extremist outlaw” named Schuyler Barbeau, who was living with the Aenks, was arrested on federal gun charges. The Aenks’ home was searched for explosives, according to KOMO News in Seattle.

On Thursday, Judge Triplet banned the Aenks from contacting the Hatfields or writing about them on social media.

Wall indicated Thursday he plans to appeal Aenk’s conviction.