Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary faces more tax trouble - WFLA News Channel 8

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary faces more tax trouble

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HERNANDO COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Managers of the financially beleaguered Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary located on Indian Shores have another unpaid tax bill on their list of troubles.

The Florida Department of revenue has just slapped a tax lien of $7684  on the charity for non-payment of unemployment taxes from April through September of last year.

That debt comes on the heels of a $188,000 tax lien from the IRS, more than $21,000 in back wages the U.S. Department of Labor ordered the charity to pay workers, and a foreclosure suit recently filed for an overdue loan of $550,000.

A sanctuary worker said founder Ralph Heath wasn't available for comment about the latest tax lien and operations manager Micki Eslick did not return our messages. Last month Progress Energy turned off the charity's electricity after Eslick said she forgot to pay the power bill.

Things weren't always this tough for the 40 year old bird rescue facility. In the 1990's founder Ralph Heath had enough to charity resources to purchase a 65 foot luxury yacht named Whisker and a beach house near the Indian Shores facility that had become a world famous refuge for pelicans and other seabirds.

Heath called the yacht, once equipped with a hot tub, five luxury staterooms and satellite TV was his "research vessel." He said the sanctuary purchased the beach house, which became his residence, to keep it in "friendly hands."

Last year, the sanctuary sold the beach house to a private equity company controlled by Heath's two sons. he still lives there. The yacht Whisker has been decaying for years in dry dock and is in need of major repair.

The sanctuary recently announced it no longer rescues birds due to it's faltering finances and is transitioning to a mostly volunteer staff to cut costs.

 A newly-formed group created by former employees called Suncoast Bird Rescue has started taking in birds and is now working on a deal with the City of Largo to create a new refuge.

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