The Federal Trade Commission and 58 law enforcement partners from every state and the District of Columbia have charged four sham cancer charities and their operators with bilking more than $187 million from consumers. The defendants told donors their money would help cancer patients, including children and women suffering from breast cancer, but the overwhelming majority of donations benefitted only the perpetrators, their families and friends, and fundraisers. This is one of the largest actions brought to date by enforcers against charity fraud.
Named in the federal court complaint are Cancer Fund of America, Inc. (CFA), Cancer Support Services Inc. (CSS), their president, James Reynolds, Sr., and their chief financial officer and CSS’s former president, Kyle Effler; Children’s Cancer Fund of America Inc. (CCFOA) and its president and executive director, Rose Perkins; and The Breast Cancer Society Inc. (BCS) and its executive director and former president, James Reynolds II.
CCFOA and Perkins, BCS, Reynolds II and Effler have agreed to settle the charges against them. Under the proposed settlement orders, Effler, Perkins and Reynolds II will be banned from fundraising, charity management, and oversight of charitable assets, and CCFOA and BCS will be dissolved. Litigation will continue against CFA, CSS and James Reynolds Sr.
“Cancer is a debilitating disease that impacts millions of Americans and their families every year. The defendants’ egregious scheme effectively deprived legitimate cancer charities and cancer patients of much-needed funds and support,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The defendants took in millions of dollars in donations meant to help cancer patients, but spent it on themselves and their fundraisers. I’m pleased that the FTC and our state partners are acting to end this appalling scheme.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said, “The allegations of fundraising for personal gain in the name of children with cancer and women battling breast cancer are simply shameful. This is the first time the FTC, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia have filed a joint enforcement action alleging deceptive solicitations by charities and I hope it serves as a strong warning for anyone trying to exploit the kindness and generosity of others.”
South Carolina Secretary of State Mark Hammond said, “When charities lie to donors, it is our duty to step in to protect them. At the same time, however, this historic action should remind everyone to be vigilant when giving to charity. This case is an unfortunate example of why I always tell my constituents to give from the heart, but give smart.”
According to the complaint, the defendants used telemarketing calls, direct mail, websites, and materials distributed by the Combined Federal Campaign, which raises money from federal employees for non-profit organizations, to portray themselves as legitimate charities with substantial programs that provided direct support to cancer patients in the United States, such as providing patients with pain medication, transportation to chemotherapy, and hospice care. In fact, the complaint alleges that these claims were deceptive and that the charities “operated as personal fiefdoms characterized by rampant nepotism, flagrant conflicts of interest, and excessive insider compensation, with none of the financial and governance controls that any bona fide charity would have adopted.”
According to the complaint, the defendants used the organizations for lucrative employment for family members and friends, and spent consumer donations on cars, trips, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, jet ski outings, sporting event and concert tickets, and dating site memberships. They hired professional fundraisers who often received 85 percent or more of every donation.
The complaint alleges that, to hide their high administrative and fundraising costs from donors and regulators, the defendants falsely inflated their revenues by reporting in publicly filed financial documents more than $223 million in donated “gifts in kind” which they claimed to distribute to international recipients. In fact, the defendants were merely pass-through agents for such goods. By reporting the inflated “gift in kind” donations, the defendants created the illusion that they were larger and more efficient with donors’ dollars than they actually were. Thirty-five states alleged that the defendants filed false and misleading financial statements with state charities regulators.
In addition, the FTC and 36 states charged CFA, CCFOA and BCS with providing professional fundraisers with deceptive fundraising materials. The FTC and the attorneys general also charged the defendants with violating the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), CFA, CCFOA and BCS with assisting and facilitating in TSR violations, and CSS with making deceptive charitable solicitations.
In addition to the bans imposed on charity work by the settling individual defendants and the dissolution of two corporations, CCFOA and BCS, the proposed final order against CCFOA and Rose Perkins imposes a judgment of $30,079,821, the amount consumers donated between 2008 and 2012. The judgment against CCFOA will be partially satisfied via liquidation of its assets; the judgment against Perkins will be suspended based upon her inability to pay.
The proposed final orders against BCS and Reynolds II impose a $65,564,360 judgment, the amount consumers donated between 2008 and 2012. The BCS order provides an option, subject to court approval, for spinning off its Hope Supply Warehouses program to a legitimate, qualified charity. BCS’s remaining assets will be liquidated and used to partially satisfy the judgment. The judgment against Reynolds II will be suspended when he pays $75,000.
The proposed final order against Effler will impose a judgment of $41,152,231, the amount consumers donated to CSS between 2008 and 2012. The judgment will be suspended upon payment of $60,000. The full judgment amounts against the individuals will become due immediately if they are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and proposed stipulated final orders was 5-0. The documents were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The proposed orders are subject to court approval.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
Before giving to a charity, read the FTC’s Charity Scams.
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