Some people thought they were helping burn victims when they gave money to the Association for Firefighters and Paramedics. Instead, the charity was spending those contributions on out-of-town trips and lavish resorts, the California Attorney General said.
The state announced a settlement this week with the Santa Ana, Calif.,-based organization that it says used deceptive fundraising tactics and misrepresented how it spent money from donors. The state accused its members of mailing invoices for pledges never made and diverting $33,000 to pay for board meetings in San Diego and Las Vegas, as well as a Caribbean cruise for board members and their families. The group's website says there is a new site coming soon and asks you to subscribe to e-mail updates "to learn even more about what we do and those we've helped."
"The trustees of this charity grossly abused their responsibilities as guardians of charitable assets," Attorney General Edmund Brown said in a statement. "They betrayed the trust of donors by squandering donations on such things as an expensive Caribbean cruise and trips to posh resorts."
Brown's office filed eight lawsuits against 12 charities and 17 fundraising groups that provided it telemarketing in May 2009. It found the telemarketers soliciting donations were telling people their money would pay for the care of burn victims in their area as well as support the fire department and paramedics in their town. The group's web site claims donations will "be felt close to home."
Donations were solicited from people nationwide and no money went to help local fire departments or paramedics, the attorney general's office found. Also, about 80% to 90% of donations helped pay for the group's fundraising expenses, according to the attorney general.
As part of the settlement, the organization must pay the state $100,000. Of that amount, $33,000 will go to help burn victims at the discretion of the attorney general. Also, for the next four years, the organization's fundraising efforts and expenses will be closely monitored. For example, the organization is not allowed to enter into any contracts or agreements with commercial fundraisers to solicit in California without first providing a copy of the contract or agreement to the attorney general's office for review.
In addition, the organization has to implement a written do-not-call policy and maintain a list of donors and potential donors who indicated they don't want to be solicited.
A call to the Association for Firefighters and Paramedics was not returned. A spokesperson for the California attorney general's office also was unavailable.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has tips on how to avoid a fundraising scam.
Association for Firefighters and Paramedics partied with donations, California AG says