Investigator Gary Green of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department in Tennessee is pursuing felony theft charges against resident Trey John R. West, lll (also known as Trey West) for fraudulent activity connected to a falsified GoFundMe page that raised $35,054. “Friends Not Food Sanctuary” (FNFS) first launched a campaign via GoFundMe in 2016 to raise money for what it claimed was an animal sanctuary in Tennessee operated by an elderly couple who needed funding to build a state-mandated fence by October 14. A group of well-known animal activists—including former special investigator Chris Cooney (co-founder of popular brand The Vegan Zombie)—banded together to organize giveaways promoting the organization, which helped the campaign initially raise more than $24,500 before the purported deadline.
Cooney told VegNews that after the successful campaign, the GoFundMe page was still live, now with a higher funding goal of $90,000, plus a new claim that the property had been devastated by the November wildfires that broke out in Tennessee. “A bunch of red flags went up,” Cooney said. “Nobody has that much bad luck.” The activist contacted FNFS on several occasions to ascertain its legitimacy but received incoherent responses from Jodie-Hill West, who claimed that her son Trey was also her attorney. Cooney contacted Tennessee-based animal activists, and each revealed that they had no prior knowledge of the so-called sanctuary. Cooney found that the elderly couple described in the GoFundMe campaign owned West Farm and posted verbiage and images—such as photos of pigs with the caption “future bacon”—to Facebook, suggesting they used animals as commodities. It was later discovered that the fabricated sanctuary’s listed location of Crossville, TN is more than 200 miles from the wildfires in the eastern part of the state.
During Cooney’s personal investigation, the campaign’s funding goal continued to increase, eventually reaching $1 million—which prompted Cooney to ask FNFS if he could visit to film the devastation in an effort to show donors how their money was being used. FNFS immediately removed its Instagram account, along with the GoFundMe campaign. At the time, the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office was collecting reports of fraudulent activity connected to the Tennessee wildfires, and Cooney presented information he had learned about FNFS, which was later used by local authorities to identify Trey West as the perpetrator of the crime.
“This hurts animals, as people are going to be reluctant to donate to animal sanctuaries because of people like this,” Cooney said, before urging animal lovers to avoid donating to third parties and, instead, support organizations directly.