Like Heidi Lueders, but six times worse
COLUMBIA, South Carolina––Caroline Dawn Pennington, 47, charged with mass animal neglect after 28 dogs and two cats were found dead in their cages at her home on May 22, 2022, held on bond of $75,000, is not just a rescuer gone very bad.
Pennington, as well as heading her own “Global Rescue Welfare League,” GROWL for short, and working as rescue coordinator for the Kershaw County Humane Society, had significant criminal history.
Pennington, before allegedly killing the 30 dogs and cats, had previously been convicted of defrauding the federal and South Carolina state Medicaid programs, conspiracy to commit tax evasion, and apparently other offenses.
One of those prior offenses, according to available public records, led to a $13,500 “speeding ticket”––or was it $25,600?––in an apparent plea bargain.
Heidi Lueders redux
Comparisons of Pennington to former Bully Breed Rescue president Heidi Lueders, who allegedly starved five “rescued” pit bulls to death in their cages at her rented home in Fairfield, Connecticut, are inevitable.
Lueders beat the rap for felony cruelty to animals because the pit bulls’ remains were so badly decomposed that forensic examination could not establish cause of death, and therefore could not prove the element of intent required for a felony conviction.
Misdemeanor cruelty charges, of which Lueders could have been convicted, had been withdrawn.
Lueders was, however, convicted of property damage. Lueders for that offense was sentenced to serve fifteen months in prison, followed by five years on probation.
“Smell of death”
Pennington, 13 years older, may have a difficult time persuading a court to grant her leniency, in view that she allegedly killed six times as many animals, and in light of her prior convictions.
Richland County sheriff Leon Lott and WIS-TV reporter Dawndy Mercer Plank, a 33-year news reporting veteran, both called the scene they witnessed at Pennington’s home, 125 Dibble Lane in Columbia, South Carolina, some of the worst cruelty they had ever seen.
A neighbor had complained about “a smell of death” coming from the home, Sheriff Lott told media.
The 28 dogs and two cats whose remains sheriff’s deputies found, confined in cages and crates, “had been deceased for a significant amount of time and, based on the circumstances, appeared to have died from starvation and dehydration,” a Richland County sheriff’s office media statement said.
“Deputies said the animals were lying in their own waste and it is believed they died in the cages and had not been moved prior to being discovered,” the media statement added.
“Appalling and heartbreaking”
“It’s appalling and it’s heartbreaking,” fumed Lott. “This is someone who was entrusted by the community to care for these animals and find them homes. She betrayed that trust and she betrayed the trust of these innocent animals who relied on her.”
Concluded the media statement, “GROWL is a registered nonprofit organization. Investigators ask anyone who has made documented donations to GROWL in the last 12 months to contact Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
“Richland County Animal Control worked with the sheriff’s department to remove the animals from the home.”
Dawndy Mercer Plank, according to her WIS-TV biography, is “a frequent speaker at churches throughout the state and is an active member at Shandon Baptist Church,” involved in women’s causes, “a marathoner and triathlete, an advocate for plant-based nutrition, and “passionate about helping others lead healthy lives.”
But she was not inclined to offer Pennington any forgiveness, even without yet knowing of her past.
“This is the face”
“This is the face of the woman accused of some of the worst animal cruelty I have covered in my career,” Plank began a June 3, 2022 posting to Facebook.
“I have known for several weeks of the accusations against Dawn Pennington,” Plank said. “Now, she’s under arrest. And Sheriff Leon Lott is revealing what several animal advocates had brought to my attention. Pennington has been running a Midlands animal rescue as the chief executive officer and director.
“I have the pictures,” Plank stated. “I won’t post them. They are sickening.”
The photos were posted by others soon after Pennington surrendered to the Richland County sheriff’s office.
“No living animals were found inside the house,” Plank stipulated.
“Unspecified personal reasons”
“Jamie Woodington, president of the board of directors for the Kershaw County Humane Society, said Pennington resigned Thursday [June 2, 2022] citing unspecified personal reasons,” Plank continued.
Said Woodington, in a Facebook statement, “At this time, to the Kershaw County Humane Society’s knowledge, her charges also do not involve any animals from the Kershaw County Humane Society, but the Kershaw County Humane Society will continue to research and work with law enforcement on this case.”
Left unanswered, though ANIMALS 24-7 asked by email: did the Kershaw County Humane Society have any record of transferring any animals to Pennington, at any time?
Woodington said the Kershaw County Humane Society became aware of the charges against Pennington only after her arrest on June 3, 2022..
“Everyone at the Kershaw County Humane Society is very distraught and appalled at the charges levied on Ms. Pennington,” Woodington continued.
125 Dibble Lane
Elaborated WLTX reporter Peyton Lewis, “Before her resignation on Thursday, Pennington worked at the Kershaw County Humane Society and handled staff scheduling. Director Jamie Woodington even described her as a ‘hard worker’ and ‘nice woman.”
“She is very outgoing, she is well spoken, she was always conveying herself as someone who wants to do the right thing for all animals,” Woodington told Lewis.
“The home was in disrepair from general neglect,” Richland County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant Joe Clarke explained to Lewis.
“The surfaces of the floor and the cabinets were covered in fecal matter. There were areas [where] you could tell these animals had urinated. It smelled bad. It’s summer. It’s humid. As we were walking through the home, we kept finding dead animals in carriers. Some were unidentifiable as dogs or cats.”
Like the Kershaw County Humane Society, the Mary Ann Morris Animal Society in Bamberg, South Carolina, better known as M.A.M.A.S., was quick to both distance itself and express surprise.
“NO MAMAS animals were, or ever have been, under G.R.O.W.L’s care,” M.A.M.A.S. posted to Facebook. “But it’s a small rescue world and Dawn was well known within our community. And that community is reeling and our hearts are shattered.”
Caroline Dawn Bolen
Caroline Dawn Pennington, mostly known as Dawn Pennington, has also been known as Caroline Dawn Bolen, through a May 16, 1998 marriage to Anthony Derek Bolen, of Williston, South Carolina, reported at length on the Aiken Standard society page.
“The bride is a graduate of Jefferson Davis Academy,” the Aiken Standard said. “She is a graduate of Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College as a respiratory therapist. She is employed by Vencor/Vencare Health Services.”
The marriage did not last. Anthony Derek Bolen now lives in Mississippi and appears to have gone his own way for more than 20 years.
Dawn Pennington went on to train hunting dogs, according to a 2007 social media profile.
“Organic drug store”
As Caroline Dawn Pennington, she also incorporated a company called Barnwell Medical Equipment, LLC on June 2, 2003; a company called Helex Medical Equipment on April 19, 2006, for which she has not filed state paperwork since September 25, 2007; and a company called Gemini Medical Products LLC, described as an “Organic drug store in Oak Grove, South Carolina.”
None of these companies left much record of themselves in the obvious places.
But one Darsh De Silva, 44, is now a “medical consultant” in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, according to his LinkedIn page, claiming to have been manager of “Helex MedIcal Services” since June 2001.
Darsh De Silva appears to be named in full Lalendra Hillary Darshana De Silva.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General Medicaid Integrity Report for fiscal year 2010, “Lalendra DeSilva and Carolina Pennington, co-owners of the durable medical equipment company Helex Inc., were sentenced [during the fiscal year, which began in 2009] for conspiracy to commit income tax fraud.
Where did the money go?
“DeSilva was sentenced to 30 months’ incarceration and ordered to pay $201,984 in restitution, of which $112,000 is owed to the Medicaid program,” the report details.
“Pennington was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day of incarceration and ordered to pay $86,123 in restitution,” the report continues.
“The investigation revealed that Helex billed Medicaid for volume ventilators that beneficiaries never received,” the report adds.
Where did the money go?
Again according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General Medicaid Integrity Report for fiscal year 2010, “DeSilva and Pennington bought a $415,000 home in cash without filing tax returns during Helex’s first 2 years in operation. The investigation involved the Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service, and the South Carolina Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.”
The house mentioned appears to be 125 Dibble Lane, in Columbia, South Carolina, where the remains of the 28 dogs and two cats were found.
Medical marijuana fraud
“Constructed in 1978,” according to real estate listings dating to the DeSilva/Pennington purchase, “this property has more than forty-eight hundred square feet of living space. The interior features evaporative cooling, forced air heating, four bedrooms, five bathrooms and fireplace. The exterior includes brick facade with an asphalt shingle roof. The large single-family three-story residence stands at the end of the street.”
Both DeSilva and Pennington unsuccessfully appealed, seeking to vacate their sentences.
Pennington is not mentioned by name in U.S. federal Security & Exchange Commission filings that continue the DeSilva saga. But there is a geographical hint suggesting she and DeSilva may still have been involved.
According to those filings, “In June of 2013 Easton Pharmaceuticals disclosed its intentions to enter into the medical marijuana industry.
DeSilva skipped to Canada
“On July 1st 2014,” Easton Pharmaceuticals “executed an agreement with a North Carolina based company who maintain ownership rights to a revenue-generating medical marijuana grow-op located within the state of California. Easton subsequently initiated a litigation action for fraud and misrepresentation in the amount exceeding $500,000 against its principles Darsh DeSilva and La Lendra DeSilva.”
But Darsh DeSilva, also known as Lalendra DeSilva, apparently fled to Canada.
“In August of 2015,” the Security & Exchange Commission filings add, Easton Pharmaceuticals “launched a legal action in Superior Court within the Province of Ontario, Canada against the defendants and principles of Medicated Markets International Inc., Darsh De Silva and LaLendra De Silva of Canada, for mis-representation and fraud above $5,000. The action seeks a return of $140,000 in cash plus punitive damages and other monies in excess of $500,000.”
Pennington meanwhile formed GROWL circa 2009. The first GROWL filing of IRS Form 990 showed revenue of $5,948, all from program service, apparently adoption fees, against expenditures of $5,303, $4,551 of which were declared as “veterinary and medical” costs.
The last available GROWL filing of IRS Form 990 showed program service revenue of $27,482. Donation income over the three preceding years had averaged $35,074.
Annual expenditures had risen to $46,642. “Veterinary and medical” costs were up to $17,383.
The only other individual ever mentioned on available GROWL filings of IRS Form 990, appearing on the filings for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013, was one Nicole Chiliemi, said to provide “non-compensated services to the organization.”
Her address was listed as 125 Dibble Lane, Columbia, South Carolina.
The former Nicole Chillemi, a veterinary technician and animal trainer now known as Nicole Karuna, has since 2005 directed a series of entities called Animal Experiences, the Sun Qu Healing Animal Sanctuary in Pine Bush, New York, and the Happy Tales Animal Sanctuary in Union Mills, North Carolina, with her “life partner” Russell Lipensky, now known as Prabuddha Russell.
Victoria Stilwell & Martha Stewart
GROWL seemed to be growing and thriving, participating in the Best Friends Animal Society “Strut Your Mutt” event in New York City in 2012. A GROWL dog named Koda appeared with celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell “in the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet on February 3, 2013” on the Martha Stewart Show, said a GROWL web posting.
GROWL adoptions were arranged at least in part through an “Edgewater Animal Shelter” in Edgewater, New Jersey, which seems not to have had a physical address and has never filed IRS Form 990, at least under that name.
This entity is also unrelated to the private foundation called Edgewater Animal Shelter in Edgewater, Florida.
The GROWL web site has not offered animals for adoption in several years. The defunct MyGrowl.com web site is offered for sale by the hosting company for $2,395.
Court records obtained by ANIMALS 24-7 on June 4, 2022 in a plain text format, which turned out to have replaced decimals with misplaced commas, suggested that Pennington was cited on February 17, 2017 in Sussex County, Virginia, for having a “defective speedometer,” was found guilty, and was assessed “court costs” of $12,100, possibly included in “court fines” of $13,500.
Assuming the records we obtained were correct, ANIMALS 24-7 initially surmised that the penalties involved a plea bargain initially charged as a much more serious offense.
On June 23, 2022, however, an anonymous caller told ANIMALS 24-7 that the actual penalties were $121 and $130, respectively, indicative of typographical errors in the online records.
The caller two days later forwarded documentation of that claim, which ANIMALS 24-7 was able to independently verify with a screenshot (above right).
Pennington surfaced next in a May 4, 2018 Woman’s World article by Tabitha Britt.
Britt described how, as “an adoption coordinator at Kershaw County Humane Society in Camden, South Carolina,” Pennington reunited “a brown-eyed shepherd mix named Chi-Chi” with New York City resident Dedra Crawford, three years after Crawford, then living in Columbia, South Carolina, lost Chi Chi during a flood.
Pennington drove Chi Chi six hundred miles, from Camden to Queens, to get her home.
Reconciling that with Pennington letting 30 animals allegedly die of neglect in her own home may be a bit difficult.
But it is not as if Pennington had never before pretended to be doing one thing, while actually doing something considerably different.
Lawyer wants “privacy & space”
Attorney Ally Benevento, representing Pennington, in a written statement to media said, “There are some significant and serious mental health issues at play that Ms. Pennington is dealing with,” adding that “we respectfully request privacy and space so that she and her family can focus on the mental health issues that need to be addressed.”
On the contrary, while the Benevento legal strategy appears to be to try to cop a plea bargain for Pennington, with the claim of mental illness, this is the time to shine the brightest possible light both on Pennington herself and on any individuals or organizations who have been enabling her.
The worst of Pennington’s criminal history may have just become visible, but it did not begin only last month, last year, or for that matter within the past decade, and the whole of it is likely still not known.