JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM is looking into a legal battle involving the fate of Celestial Farms Animal Rescue.
The future of Celestial Farms, a local nonprofit farm, animal rescue and educational center located on the Northside, remains uncertain due to an argument over finances.
Celestial Farms is currently closed to the public and many of the nonprofit’s board members aren’t allowed on the property as new and old management accuse each other of mishandling funds.
Celestial Farms is home to roughly 200 rescued farm animals, horses, pigs and goats. Now the farm is at the center of a legal battle.
Rory Malloy, Executive Director at Celestial Farms, said he took on the role back in September of 2021. He said during that time, the farm was in very bad shape as COVID crushed it financially.
“For the last year plus it’s been my life,” Malloy said. “Not only the animals, but the people there have been my family.”
Malloy said his position replaced Veronica Pasciuto, who is the current president of the farm which has been in her family for 20 years.
Malloy said he was given eight months to pay off a nearly $300,000 mortgage balloon payment that was due June 29. Back in April, the farms created a GoFundMe account in hopes of making the mortgage payment.
“Our current goal is to fully purchase the property with the upcoming balloon payment,” the GoFundMe said. “This will secure the farm’s future, a home for all of these rescued animals, and a space for the community to come together. Our deadline is June 29, 2022.
With over 500 people donating, the GoFundMe raised more than $30,000.
Now Pasciuto is calling out the employees on social media. According to her Facebook post, she agreed to sell Malloy the property for $600,000. Celestial Farms employees accuse Pasciuto of wanting to walk away with the money.
Pasciuto said on Facebook Malloy hasn’t paid her.
News4JAX reached out to Pasciuto, but her attorney advised her not to do an interview.
In an email sent to Malloy’s attorney in May, Pasciuto asked for proof on a loan in progress by end of the month.
Cellphone video showed a moving truck showing up at the farm on Saturday. Malloy said he noticed a laptop was gone, the gate was locked and passwords to accounts were changed.
The next day, he and his fellow employees received termination letters. The letter accuses them of “aiding and abetting in theft of all office files, donations, and the website.”
It also said they locked the board and president out of all accounts.
The letter reads in part: “Due to this behavior and the wasting of 8 months of being able to obtain funding for the balloon payment, we will have to close this location of our organization.”
Celestial Farms employees said they did not misuse the money.
“All we’ve done is what is right for the animals,” Malloy said. “We have not tried to personally profit.”
Malloy told News4JAX he no longer has access to the donation accounts, and that the status of the GoFundMe money is unclear.
Both sides said they are considering seeking legal action.
Malloy said as far as the animals -- only one employee is currently allowed on the property to check on the animals and said he’s not sure how they’re doing.