CLEVELAND-- The Ohio Attorney General's Office announced a lawsuit on Wednesday against the nonprofit organization Cops for Kids.
The suit accuses the group's organizers, Thomas Duffy and Charles Hitzel, of Ashtabula, of defrauding and misleading donors.
In the suit, the attorney general's office asked the court to stop Cops for Kids from soliciting in the state of Ohio and to redistribute the assets collected. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said they also want the telemarketing company Telcom Enterprises to withdraw from solicitation activity in Ohio.
"We believe that the evidence will show that the defendants misled donors and put their interests above the charitable mission they claimed to support, while collecting millions, millions of dollars from unsuspecting generous Ohioans," DeWine said.
Cops for Kids claimed to benefit youth in Ohio, build relationships between officers and children, and provide funds for scholarships and recreation programs, DeWine said. It also offered a program to give teddy bears to cops to hand out to kids who experienced traumatic crimes.
According to the attorney general, Cops for Kids would send a box of four teddy bears to police departments in cities where it planned to solicit next.
Cops for Kids received $4.2 million from donations between 2005 and 2015. DeWine said nearly 80 percent of that money went to fundraising fees, while the two men running the nonprofit received more than $600,000 in salaries.
About 2 percent, or $74,000, actually went to charitable causes, according to DeWine. He said of a $100 donation, about 80 cents would go to benefiting children.
"This is a real scam," DeWine said. "A scam that has taken money that was well intended and money that was supposed to go to children who had been traumatized as a victim of crime. And that money has gone into the pockets of the solicitors, the telemarketer company and into the pockets of the individuals who are running this scam."
Attorney General DeWine, who called this a sad story, said he hoped this would not stop people from giving to charity this time of year. He offered the following tips:
- Develop a giving plan. Determine in advance which charities you want to support. Respond to unexpected or unwanted requests by explaining that you already have a giving plan in place or that you need written information to evaluate a request.
- Research charities. Find out if an organization is registered with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, verify its tax-exempt status with the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Select Check, and gather data from organizations such as the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Watch, and Charity Navigator. View the organization’s IRS Form 990 on Guidestar. Review program descriptions, expenses, compensation levels, and other details. Conduct a basic internet search to review a group’s accomplishments or questionable activity.
- Ask how your donation will be used. Keep in mind that some charitable giving requests come from professional solicitors who are paid to collect donations. By law, solicitors must identify themselves, and if you ask, they must tell you what percentage of your donation will go to the charity. (It may be only a small percentage.) Contact charities directly to find out how they use donations. Get information in writing. Compare a charity’s materials with information you gather from other sources.
- Watch for red flags. Be wary of high-pressure tactics, requests for checks made out to an individual (instead of a charity), charities with only a few people on their board, and people who are unable or unwilling to answer questions about their organization. Don’t provide your credit card number or other personal information to callers who contact you unexpectedly.