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Coaches required students volunteer, pay dues to equestrian club revoked by IRS they were tied to

At least one of the coaches is alleged to have had a financial interest due to their alleged relationship with the club, its head official, and employment with that officials business.

New allegations are raising questions of potential ethics violations under Oregon law by OHSET coaches at Ridgeview High School in Redmond, Oregon. (Photo Credit – Equestrian Media Group)

Correction: Updated at 9:24am on 3/28 to include a statement from the past accountants for Rim Rock Riders. It also included a correction on a misspelling for Talburt. Updated again on 9/29 at 4:38pm to include details confirming a false report and allegation made by a subject of this story against this publication, which is believed to have been done to prevent publication of this story.

Redmond, Ore. – Amid ongoing allegations embroiling the Redmond School District, Oregon High School Equestrian Teams (OHSET), and three recently suspended teen girls, new questions have surfaced concerning potential ethics violations involving a team advisor and coaches over required payments to a non-profit equestrian club to practice and maintain team membership.

While some questions are related to ties and potential conflicts of interest between the club and at least one of the coaches, the shocking discovery was that the non-profit Rim Rock Riders is facing severe financial reporting issues and the discovery of its 501(c)(7) tax-exempt status being revoked two years ago by the IRS.

Roy Kaufmann, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Justice, told Equestrian Media Group that the “DOJ determined that Rim Rock Riders was exempt from their registration…”

While Rim Rock Riders was a tax-exempt non-profit, it was not considered a charitable organization for the purposes of the Oregon DOJ’s registration requirements. Kaufmann pointed out that the IRS had revoked Rim Rock Riders’ 501(c)(7) tax-exempt status.

“The IRS website indicates it was classified as a 501(c)(7) social/recreational organization prior to its IRS revocation for failing to file annual 990 returns with that agency. Generally, IRS 501(c)(7) organizations are not considered charitable,” said Kaufmann.

According to the IRS, Rim Rock Riders had its 501(c)(7) non-profit status revoked nearly two years ago on May 15th, 2022. The IRS stated that the non-profit’s tax exemption status was revoked after it failed to file Form 990 (its tax return) for several years.

As of now, the organization appears to be nearly five years delinquent, having last submitted its Form 990 return in 2018. This raises serious questions of public transparency and accountability for a non-profit organization and its staff.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Corporation Division, the non-profit was also dissolved in August 2020 after being reinstated following a 2019 dissolution by Kerri Jo Talburt, who listed herself as the organization’s “Admin”.

Talburt has handled the organization’s filings with the Oregon Corporation Division since 2014. In their most recent 990 filing with the IRS in 2018, she was listed as the individual who maintains all the organization’s records and books.

Surprisingly, Talburt was not listed as an officer, director, or top-paid employee despite her alleged role at Rim Rock Riders and authority to file critical documents with the State of Oregon for the organization since 2014, along with the number of sources who have pointed to the level of authority Talburt allegedly carries within Rim Rock Riders.

Multiple sources, including a senior staffer with Brasada Ranch who only spoke on the condition of anonymity, indicated that Talburt currently runs the day-to-day operations of Rim Rock Riders. The staffer also said Talburt is the primary person handling business affairs.

Faith Kuhn, the mother of one of the three girls who were suspended by OHSET over questionable allegations that have been rebutted through the negative drug tests, also spoke to the level of Talburt’s involvement at Rim Rock Riders.

Kuhn also explained that Talburt owned the RRR Catering & Cafe, a separate and dissolved limited liability company operating within Rim Rock Riders. She also alleged that one of the coaches for OHSET at Ridgeview High School, McKenzie Hughes, is not only good friends with Talburt but has also worked for Talburt’s business.

Hughes also serves as the Chair of OHSET’s Central District.

Additional records were recently obtained by Equestrian Media Group showing alleged financial transactions, including unspecified payments regularly made between Talburt to Hughes.

While Rim Rock Riders currently maintains a workers’ compensation insurance policy as required by Oregon law, Equestrian Media Group confirmed that Talburt’s RRR Catering & Cafe does not appear to, which Talburt herself has admitted to.

The allegations raise questions concerning Hughes’s decision to require practices at Rim Rock Riders’ facility due to Oregon government ethics rules which the state says apply to OHSET coaches. They also raise questions about potential conflicts of interest for Talburt, including operating a for-profit business that undoubtedly involves renting facilities from Rim Rock Riders.

OHSET itself outlines that school officials should handle decisions in situations where there may be such a conflict, including where a coach may be employed by a party that financially benefits, which in this case could be Talburt and Rim Rock Riders.

Rim Rock Riders do not have any non-profit conflict of interest typically required for non-profits available. It also does not disclose any of its officers or current board of directors online.

The main question remains, especially for Talburt and the listed board members:

Where is the money going over the years of missing financial disclosures?

The organization’s 2018 Form 990 also claimed the group had assets of $1.2M, with an average annual revenue of just over $100K. Of that in 2018, it claimed approximately $27K in salaries and $45K in “Contractors & Temporary”.

Rim Rock Riders’ lack of required public financial disclosures with the IRS, along with the organization’s revocation of its 501(c)(7) status and dissolution by the Oregon Secretary of State, may leave more questions for those who have donated, volunteered, or potentially even paid the non-profit organization for services.

The discovery is likely to be a major problem for Talburt and potentially the organization’s last listed directors in its 2018 filing, which include President Jon Page, Secretary Sharie Forde, and Treasurer Katie Yount.

According to the Oregon DOJ, non-profit officers and directors often face personal liability for improper or negligent management of the organization. Non-profits are never owned by individuals. If a non-profit is dissolved, the organization’s assets are supposed to be dispersed to a non-profit charity.

Andy Damman, an official with Brasada Ranch who spoke on the record, confirmed that Rim Rock Riders maintains a long-term lease for the property and the main equestrian complex. While Brasada Ranch owns the building and property, Damman said Rim Rock Riders maintains “exclusive” use of the leased property and complex.

Damman did confirm that smaller barns and pastures on the north and south ends of the leased complex are maintained directly by Brasada as horse boarding for their residents and are separate from Rim Rock Riders.

While Damman could not comment further, he said Brasada strives to maintain ethical business relationships.

Brasada Ranch was recently awarded the 2023 Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards, ranking as the fourth-best resort in the Pacific Northwest.

Brasada also took its equestrian trail riding business in-house in recent years, a program it previously contracted to a local equestrian busted last year by the Oregon State Police for illegal guiding near Juniper Preserve resort on BLM land.

After researching Rim Rock Riders, we contacted Polzel and Kuhn again to ask questions about their own interactions and knowledge of the operation. The Polzel’s had not been previously aware of Equestrian Media Group’s finding regarding the tax status for Rim Rock Riders.

Kuhn and April Polzel, mother of the other two girls allegedly suspended by OHSET on questionable allegations that were met with swift rebuke, also explained that the Ridgeview High School’s OHSET team advisor, Gayln Snair, would also handle payments for Rim Rock Riders during their events through a personal Venmo account.

They stated that membership fees were still handled directly by Rim Rock Riders, but Snair handled payments for services provided by Rim Rock Riders at specific activities. They were unsure if all the monies paid to Snair were actually paid to Rim Rock Riders or the extent of any relationships Snair had with Rim Rock Riders or Talburt.

Polzel alleged that Talburt previously reported that Rim Rock Riders charged $20 for a bundle of bedding for horses, while she says Snair would charge them $40. Polzel said she was unsure where the alleged difference may have gone.

Earlier today, Executive Director Susan Myers with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission confirmed that the OGEC had received a complaint involving the Redmond School District or OHSET but could not provide any further information at this time, citing “ORS 244.260(4)(c).”

It was unclear if the complaint and likely preliminary investigation by the OGEC involved any of these new allegations.

OHSET’s Oregon City High School program was the center of an investigation by the OGEC in 2021 against its coach, Angie Wacker. She was ultimately found violating Oregon ethics laws and fined $2,500 by the board of the OGEC.

OHSET’s State Board voted to pay Wacker’s fine and ultimately instituted new ethics training after OHSET’s coaches were determined to be public officials.

(Photo Credit – Equestrian Media Group)

We eventually spoke with Talburt, who answered the phone provided by Rim Rock Riders and asked her about the missing fillings.

Talburt admitted to the lapse while not specifically confirming that she knew the organization’s non-profit status was revoked nearly two years ago.

“It’s being taken care of,” Talburt said at least twice.

“We fired an accountant, and they started working on it,” Talburt then stated.

While the Board of Directors and key officers are responsible for non-profit tax filings, the organization’s 2018 Form 990 reports that the non-profit’s accountants at that time as Bend-based Kernutt Stokes, LLP.

Kernutt Stokes told Equestrian Media Group the day after publication they had never been retained to handle any filings for Rim Rock Riders since 2018.

“Rim Rock Riders did not engage our firm to prepare the 2019 Form 990 or any subsequent filings,” said Managing Partner Steve Ritchie.

Talburt then claimed she was ultimately not responsible for the organization’s tax filings or the annual reports she filed between 2014 and 2019 with the Oregon Secretary of State.

She also downplayed her alleged role, saying she was only a part-time employee of Rim Rock Riders, calling her role a “clerical worker” while denying being in any position of authority as an officer or management employee.

“I’m not an officer; I’m not a director,” Talburt said while also stating that she handles the filings with the Oregon Secretary of State.

Talburt also denied that she handles the organization’s interactions with Brasada Ranch, saying an officer handles vital decisions on the organization’s business.

“I have no relationship with Brasada Ranch,” Talburt went on to say.

“We don’t really have a relationship with Brasada… we don’t engage with Brasada in any way, except they rent our arena now and then,”

When we asked who the officers or key employees were, if not the directors themselves, Talburt then claimed they had a single full-time employee who maintained the grounds.

We then asked Talburt if she thought there was any conflict of interest in her operating her for-profit business at Rim Rock Riders, considering her current employment status with the non-profit.

Talburt was asked if the non-profit maintains a conflict of interest policy and if they’d be willing to provide it. Talburt said she didn’t know if that policy existed. She also said the board of directors didn’t think her operating a business within the non-profit was a conflict of interest.

We then asked Talburt if she thought it was a conflict of interest and perhaps why Rim Rock Riders weren’t operating the concessions directly.

“Let me put it this way– I’m here 16 hours a day,” she said.

Talburt had just minutes earlier claimed that her RRR Catering & Cafe business only operates during events and that she was only a part-time employee of Rim Rock Riders.

The organization’s 2018 financial disclosures leave even more questions on how Rim Rock Riders could have maintained Talburt’s part-time employment and the employment of a single full-time maintenance worker on only $27K in salaries paid and only approximately $4K between payroll taxes and workers’ compensation coverage.

When we asked why Talburt about the lack of filling for her own business after she confirmed it was still in operation, she said it was a “simple oversight”.

Talburt also acknowledged that she had not maintained workers’ compensation coverage despite clearly saying she does employ workers, but she felt it wasn’t necessary because the majority of those working for her are family at the RRR Cafe.

Talburt avoided if the business used the workers’ compensation policy maintained by the non-profit.

Talburt then went on to also confirm that Ridgeview High School athletes in OHSET are required to pay either a non-member fee or be members of the facility in order to attend the practices.

When we asked if Talburt employs Hughes, she responded saying, “Well she’s a member here,” prompting a clarification if Hughes does or has ever worked for her RRR Cafe business as well when she again denied.

Talburt also said that Rim Rock Riders has never received any monies from the Redmond School District, which raises the question about the discovery of funds revealed in a previous grant award to Ridgeview’s OHSET program for “Arena Fees”, which Equestrian Media Group reported just yesterday.

Equestrian Media Group is still in the process of obtaining documents of financial records from the Redmond School District showing where that money went, something the district’s spokesperson had denied they handle for the OHSET team.

Talburt again deflected and claimed Hughes was a member of Rim Rock Riders. We then asked her if she had ever engaged in any financial transactions with Hughes, prompting a quick “No.”

When asked again, and Hughes again said “No”, but promptly hung up the call while asking a follow-up question.

Equestrian Media Group did not have an opportunity to ask specifically about the financial records of public transactions made via Venmo to Hughes. It was unclear if Talburt was aware that the transactions between them were set to show publically on Venmo as well.

We did not get to ask Talburt about any payments made to Rim Rock Riders by Snair, the Ridgeview OHSET advisor.

Kuhn, the Polzels, and other sources who would only speak again under the condition of anonymity said that Hughes and Talburt were what most would define as “close friends.”

Hughes was unable to be reached for comment prior to press time.

Equestrian Media Group shockingly received a call from a Sheriff’s deputy in Oregon shortly after a voicemail was left with Hughes and after our conversation with Talburt.

The deputy informed us that an individual alleged that we had called and claimed we were with the Department of Justice.

The deputy refused to identify the individual. The day after the initial publication of this story, Crook County Sheriff Gautney reportedly (according to another deputy) declined our requests to identify the caller despite the information being public records, requiring us to go through a public records request process that further delayed identifying the caller.

Equestrian Media Group received a copy of a dispatch log showing that the caller was Hughes and that the call took place after this publication had spoken with Talburt. The notes from the deputy make reference to Hughes mentioning the voicemail we also left her, also properly identifying ourselves.

During a review of the call with Talburt, twice she was informed that the call was from Equestrian Media Group, including at the start of the approximately 15 minute call.

The dispatch notes confirm a story given by Hughes confirming that Talburt contacted Hughes about the call our this publications questioning.

It is also unlikely that Hughes had not been aware of this reporter and publications ongoing investigation over the last month, as well as our story published a day prior.

Note: This publication and its reporters will not be intimidated by the improper summoning of law enforcement authorities on baseless allegations. It is always our effort to ensure that the parties to our reporting are provided an opportunity to comment on matters in our reporting, keeping with the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, and we always identify our news media affiliation.

This publication categorically finds the actions of Hughes (and the claims by Talburt alleged by Hughes) to be unacceptable and potentially criminal.

You can count on NW Horse Report to update you on this developing story. Join the discussion on FacebookInstagram, or X (formally Twitter).

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