Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office Files Lawsuits Against Two Charities and Four Professional Solicitors
AG Joins Federal Regulators in Warning Consumers About Fraudulent Fundraising for Military and Police Charities
In addition to filing these lawsuits Wednesday, the Attorney General's Office joined the Federal Trade Commission, 48 states and the District of Columbia to announce "Operation False Charity," a federal-state effort aimed at helping consumers recognize and avoid charitable solicitation fraud. Fraudulent solicitors preying upon the good will of donors misrepresent who they are and what they do with the funds they raise, often picking the most popular charitable causes, such as support for veterans, police, firefighters and their families, to most effectively obtain dollars from sympathetic-minded individuals.
"Given today's economic climate, charitable organizations are already struggling to secure funding for their missions through donations," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "Fraudulent solicitors not only take money away from legitimate organizations, but they also undermine the public's confidence in legitimate charitable fundraising. Fortunately, through some simple research and good common sense, donors can prevent much of this fraud, and ensure that donated funds go to support the worthy causes, rather than unscrupulous individuals."
The Attorney General's Office filed two separate actions today in Suffolk Superior Court against four professional solicitors and the two charities they fundraised for. The first action alleges that Our American Veterans, a Georgia-based organization; its president, Sydney Young; and its professional fundraiser, Golden State Marketing, Inc., a Delaware corporation with offices located in New Bedford, engaged in deceptive solicitation practices in violation of state Consumer Protection laws. The complaint alleges that the defendants misled donors into believing that fundraisers were calling on behalf of veterans groups based in Hingham and Hull and that their donations would benefit veterans in those communities. The complaint further alleges that the defendants failed to disclose their status as professional fundraisers, and failed to honor requests to discontinue its solicitation campaign to raise funds for disabled and indigent veterans. A preliminary injunction hearing has been scheduled in this case for June 9, 2009.
In the second action filed in court, the Attorney General's Office alleges that Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center, Inc., a Florida-based charity; its president, Terry Morrison; and its professional fundraisers, Patrick Kane, doing business as the Kane Marketing Group, Mark Hemphill, doing business as Infiniti Marketing Firm, and James Vincent, doing business as Northeast Advertising, misled potential donors into believing that fundraisers were volunteers calling on behalf of local disabled police officers. The complaint also alleges that the defendants in this lawsuit did not disclose their status as professional fundraisers, did not disclose the charity's Florida address, and did not file fundraising reports for their fundraising campaigns, all of which are required by law. A preliminary injunction hearing has been scheduled in this case for June 19, 2009.
Today, as part of "Operation False Charity," the FTC issued a series of consumer alerts that provide tips about charities that solicit donations on behalf of veterans and military families. The alerts can be found onthe agency's website at www.ftc.gov/charityfraud. Among other helpful tips, the alerts point out how many legitimate charities are soliciting donations to support the nation's military veterans, but not all "charities" are legitimate. Some are also operators whose only purpose is to make money for themselves. Others are paid fundraisers whose fees can use up most of your donation.
The Attorney General's Office, through its Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division, is responsible for overseeing the public's interest in the Commonwealth's non-profit charitable organizations. Massachusetts general laws require public charities to register and file annual reports with the Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division of the Office of the Attorney General and copies of these reports are available to the public. The Public Charities Annual Filing Document Search allows the public to access these reports.
"With more information about charities now available on our website, donors have more tools to research a charity before they give," Attorney General Coakley said. "We urge consumers to do their homework and ask questions before writing a check or donating online to their favorite cause."
The Attorney General's Office also has a tip sheet available online called Donating Dos and Don'ts: A Guide to Charitable Giving .
The two cases filed today are being handled by Assistant Attorney General Sandra Cardone of Attorney General Coakley's Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division.