Pixabay. Public domain. Creative Commons 0.

December 10, 2017; Fairborn Daily Herald (Cleveland, OH)

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen a certain type of scam charity multiplied many times over. The pattern, which leaves a clear trail of breadcrumbs for investigators and regulators, essentially works like this:

  • A charitable cause with broad appeal is chosen. Common choices include issues that concern first responders (veterans, police, firefighters), cancer victims, or children.
  • The job of fundraising for that cause is handed over to a telemarketer—one that employs misrepresentative and coercive methods.
  • The telemarketer eats up 80 percent of all proceeds from the calls, and the sponsoring nonprofit takes 10 percent or so off the top.
  • Less than 10 percent—often less than 5 percent—ever makes it to any charity.

Luckily, we’re now seeing more active prosecution of these cases by attorneys general, like those in 25 states who coordinated last month to shut down VietNow. Viet Now was based in Illinois, but raised funds in states across the country and showed all the markers of this basic pattern.

In a recent case, Ohio Cops for Kids (aka Cops for Kids Inc.) raised $4.2 million over 10 years ending in 2015, of which $3.34 million was retained by for-profit solicitor Telcom Enterprises, $802,662 was spent on administration, and $73,840 actually went to services—1.75 percent of what was raised over that decade.

“Well-meaning Ohioans gave to Cops for Kids believing their dollars would help Ohio children or support local law enforcement. Instead, an overwhelming percentage of donations were kept by the group’s for-profit fundraiser or the men who operated it,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “We believe Cops for Kids is a sham operation that has defrauded Ohioans out of millions of dollars while performing almost no legitimate charitable work.”

Cops for Kids claims its mission is to improve the quality of life for Ohio youth through educational and recreational activities, working hand-in-hand with law enforcement, but this Ashtabula-based group spent so-called programmatic money on a weird collection of activities, including sending boxes of a few teddy bears to police departments and writing checks to other agencies.

The Ohio attorney general’s office is suing Cops for Kids’ organizers, Thomas Duffy and Charles Hitzel, and Telcom Enterprises for defrauding Ohio donors. The AG seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from soliciting for charity in Ohio and from incorporating or working for a nonprofit in Ohio. Meanwhile, orders are being sought to dissolve Cops for Kids, have its remaining assets distributed to organizations that are actually involved in providing services, and to ban Telcom from fundraising in Ohio. On top of that, they’re looking for receive restitution, damages, and civil penalties.

“There are plenty of children’s and law enforcement groups that could use support, so to run this kind of scheme is shameful,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We know that Ohioans are generous, and many will make charitable contributions, especially this time of year, but they deserve to know how and where their hard-earned dollars will be used.”—Ruth McCambridge