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Nick Sculac: Serenity Springs tiger sanctuary operator scammed $40,000 from volunteer

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There's more than one way to get mauled at a big-cat sanctuary.

After he was attacked by a tiger at the Serenity Springs Wildlife Center last year, a volunteer then had the bite put on him by the refuge's founder -- who claimed that the victim had to pay $40,500 as his "share" of the resulting fines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The volunteer, Michael McCain, had entered a prohibited area at the sanctuary in April 2009 and was bitten in the arm by a Bengal tiger reaching through an opening in its cage. But after paying Serenity Springs operator Nick Sculac his "share," McCain later checked with the USDA and discovered that no fine had yet been imposed.

Sculac, 60, is facing up to six years in prison at a sentencing hearing Tuesday after pleading guilty to theft, according to this article in the Colorado Springs Gazette. But his conning of one of his own volunteers is hardly the first controversy in the tangled history of Serenity Springs.

Colorado is home to two of the largest carnivore sanctuaries in the country, Serenity Springs in Calhan and the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg. A 2008 Westword cover story focused on the struggles and triumphs of the WAS, but its founder, Pat Craig, was reluctant to talk about Sculac and his operation -- particularly since Sculac had once sued him for defamation.

Sculac, for his part, boasted that his sanctuary was the only one in Colorado with a state zoo license; he also criticized Craig for drawing a salary. But Sculac's sanctuary has been embroiled in legal and financial troubles for years, particularly since the death of cofounder Karen Sculac, his wife, in 2006.

He's been accused of taking money for work that was never performed, of keeping cubs in areas off the grounds of the refuge, and of breeding animals -- a no-no in the view of the American Sanctuary Association, which seeks to promote sanctuaries that take in exotic animals abused or abandoned by circuses and private owners. He also is apparently the target of complaints from eBay users who've attempted to buy medical equipment from him online.

Serenity Springs has reportedly changed ownership in recent years. A recent plea on the nonprofit's website seeks donations to pay for a rental truck because its regular meat delivery vehicle was hit by a drunk driver.

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