SOUTH ELGIN, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) — A woman who runs a South Elgin cat shelter has been ordered to return a $50,000 grant she won in a contest.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Pat Cassidy reports, Carol Schultz of Guardian Angels Feline Rescue won the $50,000 in the Pepsi Refresh Project for her cat shelter.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Pat Cassidy reports

Pepsi awards the grants to organizations in several categories on a monthly basis. The recipients of the awards are determined by online voting.

Schultz tells the Chicago Tribune she legitimately won the grant to help care for more than two dozen cats, many of them abandoned.

But Pepsi says a review of the vote totals from October found that some were fraudulent.

Ann Goody, the curator of the Three-Ring Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Hawaii, released e-mails allegedly from Schultz admitting to paying an overseas contact to artificially boost her vote totals, the Tribune reported.

There were also allegations of vote-buying within the competition.

Thus, Schultz has been asked to return the money.

In a blog posting titled, “Maintaining the Integrity of Voting,” Pepsi said it had decided to rescind the grant after reviewing the vote totals, and indicated that without fraudulent votes, Schultz’s shelter would not have been in the 10 vote-getters.

“The grant will instead be awarded to the idea within the same grant level and voting period with the next highest number of votes – the idea that should have rightfully been awarded a grant,” Pepsi wrote.

Schultz denied any wrongdoing, and called Goody a “sore loser.” She called the allegation of buying votes in the competition “ad-libbing,” the Tribune reported.

Schultz has already spent thousands of dollars on veterinary care, 50 PetSmart gift cards for unemployed pet owners, and a loan to convert her garage into a shelter. But now, she must return the full $50,000 by Wednesday of next week, the Tribune reported.

Schultz says losing the money means the future for the cat shelter is bleak. She tells the newspaper she will either “have to open the door and release them, or euthanize them.”

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