SHAM CHARITIES SCAMMED CONSUMERS OUT OF MILLIONS

Note from Tony Kendzior: This from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It arrived in my inbox Sunday, 11 Oct 2020. A reminder that something you might want to have benefit from your generosity may not be what it seems to be.

A sprawling fundraising operation that allegedly scammed consumers out of millions of dollars will be permanently banned from charitable fundraising along with its owner and others involved in its operation as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission and Attorneys General of several states.

The operation is made up of multiple companies all under the control of owner Mark Gelvan, along with his associates Thomas Berkenbush, William English, and Damian Muziani. The complaint filed by the FTC and the states alleges that the defendants served as the primary fundraisers for a number of sham charities that were the subject of numerous law enforcement actions.

The complaint alleges that the sham charities claimed to use consumers’ donations to help homeless veterans, retired and disabled law enforcement officers, breast cancer survivors, and others in need. In fact, these organizations spent almost none of the donations on the promised activities.

The complaint alleges that as much as 90 percent of the money raised by the defendants for these sham charities went to the defendants themselves as payment for their fundraising services. What little money the charities did receive was rarely spent on any of their supposedly charitable missions, sometimes less than two percent.

According to the complaint, the defendants orchestrated the sham charities’ fundraising operations by soliciting donations, writing fundraising materials, and providing other key support to the sham charities. Defendants placed calls misrepresenting how donations would be used, and in many instances, the calls violated consumers’ do-not-call requests.

Under proposed settlements, all of the defendants will be permanently prohibited from participating in any charity fundraising, and from deceiving consumers in any other fundraising effort, including for political action committees (PACs). The defendants will be required to clearly inform consumers at the time they ask for money that any donations are not charitable and not eligible for tax deductions. In addition, the defendants will be subject to significant monetary judgments and required to surrender assets.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulates the solicitation of contributions in Florida. Charitable organizations, sponsors, professional solicitors, and professional fundraising consultants are required to register with the department and are required to provide documentation to show how contributions are used. Visit www.FloridaConsumerHelp.com and click on Charities for more information and tools on how to safely make charitable contributions in Florida.

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