"It's been tough," Chrystll Owens, co-owner and director of Clay County Animal Rescue, recently told The Brazil Times about being extradited on an arrest warrant to Kentucky in early August. "It's been a really frustrating and hurtful experience, not only for me, but for my family and friends. When something like this happens, you quickly learn who your real friends are."
On Thursday, July 30, members of the Indiana State Police, working in conjunction with the United States Marshals Fugitive Task Force, took Owens into custody at her rural Clay County residence on an outstanding arrest warrant issued Sept. 21, 2000, for a probation violation involving a prior forgery conviction Warren County, Ky.
Owens openly admits to pleading guilty to her involvement in a forgery case that involved two other people, one of which was a family member.
"At 23, I trusted people at their word, like my grandfather taught me," Owens said. "When a family member asked me to help them out, I did and went to the bank and cashed their payroll checks. I didn't know they were forged. Young and naive, I believed they were being truthful. I didn't know what was going on until the police came to my job and arrested me a year later."
When confronted with the shocking evidence, Owens, whose married name was Meredith at the time, said she immediately remembered the teachings of her grandfather and did the right thing.
"What else could I do? The evidence was laid out right in front of me. My name was on the checks," she said. "I went before the judge and pled guilty."
Due to the amount of money involved, the State of Kentucky charged her with a class D felony. With no prior criminal record, Owens said the court believed the explanation of circumstances surrounding her involvement in the case.
"Once I was put on five years probation, I immediately left Kentucky and had it transferred to Indiana," Owens said, adding she originally moved to Indianapolis, and then moved to the Clay County area 12 years ago. "I successfully completed my probation, and haven't been in trouble since. I even successfully filed to have my rights back -- a convicted felon loses the right to vote or have a gun permit -- but I got mine back five years ago."
Although Owens was straightening out her legal issues and growing personally with her subsequent marriage to husband Jon Owens, the lines of communication between the legal systems in Indiana and Kentucky apparently failed somewhere.
"Indiana was keeping track of my records, but Kentucky purged theirs," she explained. "The court in Kentucky issued a warrant for my arrest in 2000 when they couldn't find my records."
Owens said the arrest warrant laid in a file until it was discovered and served on July 30.
"The officers who came to my house were so helpful and courteous," she said. "I think they were just as confused as I was. They even checked to see if Kentucky officials really wanted the expense of sending me back. Everyone I dealt with was apologetic along the way."
All the charges were dropped once Indiana forwarded copies of Owens' legal paperwork to the Warren County Regional Jail and the prosecutor's office.
"Thank God Indiana hadn't purged their records," Owens said. "I don't know what we would have done."
However, the "real reason" for her extradition, Owens said, became clear when she appeared before a judge. With the other two individuals involved in the original case still in jail, Owens is the only person who can pay the court-ordered restitution.
"They put me on informal probation for the next three-and-a half years to pay it back," she said. "(While the other two are) in jail and can't pay, I've been told that I have to file suit against them once they get out of jail to get the money back. All of this has just been horrible."
While Owens and her husband were struggling through the Kentucky legal system, their animal rescue operation, which also provides animal control services to Brazil, continued to operate with the help of family and friends.
"We are so grateful to everyone who helped us," she said, but added it was difficult to come home and discover the reaction of some people concerning her legal nightmare. "I've always been up front about my past. It was very hurtful to hear the comments from people, who didn't know or care about what was really happening, being so judgmental and pointing fingers without completely understanding the whole situation."
It was the reason Owens decided to sit down with The Brazil Times and set the record straight on issues the public was concerned with.
"All my life I've had to correct people about the spelling of my first name," Owens said about the misspelling of her name on legal documents in Kentucky. "It's spelled that way on my birth certificate and social security card. I'm always correcting someone. As for my last name, that changed when I got married."
As for the operation of Clay County Animal Rescue, Owens said making sure animals are properly cared for is she and her husband's passion.
"I love animals. We both do, and we wouldn't intentionally hurt one for anything," she said. "We only get $12,500 in contract money from the city, because that's all they could afford. The stray animals in Brazil needed someone to care for them. And, in this line of work, you have to really care about the animals first and think about the money later."
Owens confirmed a 10-page report is provided to Brazil city officials every three months that includes financial records and a detailed animal tracking report. Owens said she accounts for the number of animals taken in, medical expenses for the animals, what happens to the animals while at the rescue and when animals are taken to another rescue or arrangements made for their adoption.
The report, according to Owens, also includes information regarding animals euthanized due to medical ailments, untreatable injuries or those who are too vicious to be housed and cared for at the facility.
"We aren't a public facility where people can come down and walk around. It's located at my home," Owens said. "But appointments for adoptions or have an animal retrieved can be made by calling 317-641-9076."
Pending federal approval of its non-profit status, Owens is hopeful her recent legal problems will not cause problems.
"We don't necessarily need to be a 501(c)(3) status to operate as a rescue," Owens said. "But, having it allows people to make tax deductible donations and allows us to apply for grants to expand operations so we can take care of more animals in the future. I hope this legal nightmare doesn't mess that up, because all our paperwork has been in for months, but I'm still waiting for the approval from the federal government. We have been approved as a non-profit by the state of Indiana."
The struggles of the past month have been bittersweet for Owens.
"My past has never been a secret, it's always been out there for anyone to find if they searched for it. But I admit, all that has happened has changed me, it's hurt me and my family," Owens said. "My husband, he's been right there at my side through all this. I guess the good that came out of it all, if there really is any, is that we know who our friends are and who we can trust."
As Chrystll and Jon Owens struggled with legal problems in Kentucky, questions arose about what was happening to the stray animals in Brazil.
Mayor Ann Bradshaw recently told The Brazil Times she was impressed with how the Owens made sure their contract obligations were covered.
"The Owens' have done a superb job for the city," Bradshaw said. "The animals were cared for, fed and watered each day. I am impressed that while Chrystll was away, she made sure the animals were a priority."
Officials confirmed no background check was performed on Owens at the time the city signed a contract with her organization because she had recently worked for the Clay County Humane Society. While the expense of performing criminal background checks are reserved for "new hires" of city employees, Bradshaw confirmed it's not an established protocol when working with organizations doing contract work for the city.
Bradshaw, along with other officials, agree it was a shame the mistake in paperwork caused such havoc.
"This situation happened many years ago," Bradshaw said about Chrystll Owens' fraud conviction more than 15 years ago. "People should have the opportunity to change their lives."