Judge Bars Veterans Charity From Soliciting in Massachusetts Following AG’s Lawsuit
Veterans Charity Allegedly Solicited Donations in MA without Proper Authorization, Falsely Stated Donations Would Go to Massachusetts Veterans
BOSTON – A judge has barred a veteran’s charity from soliciting in Massachusetts following a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Office last week. The lawsuit file size 5MB alleges that the charity used deceptive practices while soliciting funds in Massachusetts.
“There are many generous people in Massachusetts who donate money to assist veterans in their communities,” AG Coakley said. “We allege that this charity violated the public’s trust and disadvantaged veterans by falsely claiming that donations would assist Massachusetts veterans. Donors should be able to trust that their dollars are going to the programs, communities, and people they intended them to.”
“I applaud Attorney General Martha Coakley and the Plainville Police Department for helping to ensure that the generous donations made by Massachusetts citizens to help Massachusetts veterans actually reach those veterans,” said Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey. “We take fraud committed on our residents and veterans very seriously.”
“Massachusetts has a strong tradition of supporting our veterans and we lead the nation in providing benefits and services to our veterans and military families,” said Department of Veterans' Services Secretary Coleman Nee. “However, we must remain ever vigilant to ensure we are supporting reputable charities and organizations. Any organization that attempts to defraud the public should be held accountable. I applaud the Attorney General and her Charities Division for the work they have done protecting our veterans and the general public from these fraudulent organizations.”
On August 6, the AG’s Office lawsuit file size 5MB in Suffolk Superior Court against a Connecticut-based charity, Focus on Veterans, Inc. (Focus on Veterans). In the lawsuit, the AG’s Office alleges that Focus on Veterans violated the state charitable solicitation laws by soliciting donations outside Massachusetts businesses without a valid Certificate for Solicitation from the AG’s Office. The complaint also alleges that Focus on Veterans used unfair and deceptive charitable solicitation practices during these solicitation campaigns.
In a hearing on Thursday, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke entered a temporary restraining order against Focus on Veterans prohibiting them from soliciting funds in Massachusetts until a preliminary injunction hearing is held. That hearing has been set for Sept. 16.
The lawsuit file size 5MB filed last week alleges that Focus on Veterans failed to register and submit annual financial filings required by statute with the AG’s Non-Profit Organizations/Public Charities Division. These filings are necessary to ensure transparency and public accountability regarding the funds raised by a charitable organization and whether those funds are being used in furtherance of that charity’s stated charitable mission.
Without the financial filings, the charity is ineligible to receive a valid, current Certificate for Solicitation from the office. Without the certificate they are not allowed to solicit funds. The AG’s Office sent letters to Focus on Veterans on three occasions in April and June 2014 notifying them that they could not solicit funds until they had satisfied those requirements. Despite the warnings, the complaint alleges that Focus on Veterans continued to actively solicit funds in Massachusetts.
The complaint further alleges that Focus on Veterans misled potential donors by falsely representing that their donations would be used to assist Massachusetts veterans in various ways, including providing housing and transportation assistance.
Focus on Veterans allegedly solicited in front of Massachusetts businesses in various communities including Shrewsbury, Hyde Park, Uxbridge and Plainville, and displayed a banner reading “Support Our Massachusetts Veterans.” The charity also had pamphlets stating that Focus on Veterans provides housing to veterans in Central Village, CT, transportation to Veterans Administration hospitals, scholarships and part-time employment. Neither the charity’s website nor its literature refer to any services provided to Massachusetts veterans.
In fact, the complaint alleges that when approached by a Plainville police officer, a Focus on Veterans solicitor stated that none of the donations would go to Massachusetts veterans. The solicitor was also unable to produce any written proof that Focus on Veterans was a legitimate charitable organization authorized to solicit in Massachusetts.
That solicitor, Harvey Malbaurn, was subsequently arrested by Plainville Police on July 11. He was arraigned in Wrentham District Court on the charges of Larceny over $250 by False Pretense and Conspiracy. Malbaurn is due back in Wrentham District Court on August 21 for a pre-trial conference. The Norfolk District Attorney’s Office is handling this criminal case.
Further investigation by the Plainville Police Department revealed that Focus on Veterans operates two “rooming houses” in Plainfield, CT that rent to both veterans and nonveterans. Residents of the homes allegedly solicit for the charity in other communities in order to support the homes and wear unmarked camouflage clothing when they solicit donations, whether they are veterans or not.
In April, the AG’s Office sued a Rhode Island-based charity, Veterans Community Foundation, Inc. (VCF), and its principals for misleading 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. VCF has since ceased operation and a permanent receiver has been appointed by the Rhode Island Superior Court.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General 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. The Plainville Police Department and the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office also provided assistance.