Veterans Charity Sued for Illegally Soliciting Donations, Using Deceptive Fundraising Tactics
Veterans Charity Allegedly Solicited Donations without Proper Authorization and Used Deceptive Practices; Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order
BOSTON – A veterans charity has been sued for illegally soliciting charitable donations and for using deceptive fundraising tactics in violation of state charitable solicitation laws, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.
“We allege that these defendants violated the public’s trust by knowingly misleading potential donors while soliciting money for veterans,” said AG Coakley. “There are many worthy veterans’ charities that deserve support and generous donors should not have to worry about being misled as to where their money is going.”
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court against a Rhode Island-based charity, Veterans Community Foundation, Inc. (VCF), its CEO, Kimberly S. Silva, and its New England branch managers, Matthew J. Desautel and Americo Renzi.
In the lawsuit, the AG’s Office alleges that VCF violated the state charitable solicitation laws by soliciting donations in storefronts in Massachusetts without a valid Certificate of Solicitation from the AG’s Office. The complaint also alleges that VCF has used unfair and deceptive charitable solicitation practices during these solicitation campaigns.
A temporary restraining order has been obtained against the charity and the other defendants preventing them from any fundraising activities in the state until they have satisfied the required filing requirements and obtained a valid Certificate of Solicitation from the AG’s Office.
The complaint alleges that VCF failed to file annual financial filings required by statute with the AG’s Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years, and thus it is ineligible to receive a valid, current Certificate of Solicitation from the office. The AG’s Office sent letters to VCF and Silva on two occasions in March 2014 notifying them that they could not solicit funds until they had satisfied those requirements. Despite those warnings, the complaint alleges that VCF has continued to actively solicit funds in Massachusetts.
The complaint further alleges that VCF misled potential donors by falsely representing that their donations would be used for veterans’ programs and that 80 percent of the funds solicited would support veterans’ programs. In fact, VCF allegedly did not respond to a Massachusetts veteran who attempted to contact VCF to inquire about its veterans’ programs in Massachusetts. In a separate call, the same veteran spoke with a VCF manager who could not describe any programs supporting veterans that have been conducted in the state.
Further, the complaint alleges that VCF provided information to potential donors that falsely stated that a minimum of 80 percent of all donated dollars go directly to veteran program services. In reality, the complaint alleges that individuals hired by VCF were paid a commission of 30 percent of all the donations they received while soliciting on behalf of VCF.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Garry Inge issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday and scheduled a hearing for April 30 on the AG’s motion seeking a preliminary injunction that, if granted, would bar the defendants from continuing to use deceptive fundraising tactics and order them to account for all money raised from the public in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
In November 2013, the AG’s Office released a Veterans Charity Solicitation Report examining paid solicitations for veterans’ charities and encouraging consumers to be informed donors. In July 2013, AG Coakley offered tips on informed giving to veterans and public safety groups, and offered guidance to retailers that are considering allowing charities to solicit on their property. Potential donors can also view more tips here.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Eric Carriker and Ashley Wisneski of AG Coakley’s Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division, with assistance from Investigator Dan Ferullo, also of the Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division.