June 21, 2017; TV Guide

As a big fan of the CNBC show American Greed, I have noted over the years that an uncomfortable portion of their true crime episodes feature philanthropy in either a central or supporting role to some of this nation’s most egregious scam artists. Thus, it was no surprise to hear that the show would focus next on the Reynolds family, who specialized in charitable solicitations focused on cancer.

The episode is aptly entitled “Junk in a Box” because, although the cancer charities in question raised approximately $187 million over the course of a decade, only three percent of that ever made its way to patients and too often in the form of, yes, junk in a box. From that episode’s promo material:

The Cancer Fund of America promises to provide treatment to cancer patients—but in reality, the charity just sends patients boxes full of seemingly random items like snack cakes and sample-sized toiletries.

NPQ had been covering the Reynolds story for a few years when, in 2015, the attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia aided by the Federal Trade Commission collaborated to stop what had become a multi-state charity scam empire. At the time, Rick Cohen wrote about how frustrating it was to have the journey to justice take so long, and he placed some responsibility on nonprofits themselves:

Nonprofits don’t like to call for governmental oversight and investigations, but there are nonprofits out there that know other charities that operate much like those of the Reynolds family. The damage caused by Reynolds-like scam charities hurts all charities. The damage is not avoided by nonprofit leaders’ adopting ostrich strategies.

Cohen actually participated in one American Greed episode, entitled “Dealing in Deceit,” about the involvement of the Vanguard Foundation with the fraud of Sammy “Mouli” Cohen. But, there were so many more episodes on philanthropy, like “When Greed and Giving Collide,” “A Most Generous Criminal,” and “Charity Begins at Home,” featuring Bobby Thompson (aka John Donald Cody) who scammed millions over years through the use of shell veteran’s charities. You could binge watch just the shows focused on or featuring philanthropy and come away wondering how these guys make so much money even as legitimate nonprofits struggle for every penny.

We digress; what we really want to do is to encourage you to take a half-hour and watch “Junk in a Box” to get familiar with what the scam looked like, because it is important to notice and report the scams that taint legitimate charity and make skeptics of the public. The show will run at 10P ET/PT on Monday on CNBC.—Ruth McCambridge