New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit to shut down what he dubbed a “sham charity” in St. James that allegedly raised $9.1 million in the past five years to fight breast cancer but instead spent more than 95 percent of the money on staff perks.
Schneiderman alleges the Coalition Against Breast Cancer used the money to pay exorbitant fundraiser fees, unjustified salaries and benefits packages, and for personal goods like cell phones and TV services. He filed the lawsuit in Suffolk County court.
The lawsuit claims the coalition and its for-profit fundraiser, Campaign Center, violated state not-for-profit and charitable solicitations laws, making false claims about activities and services.
“By using a charity as a personal cash machine, the Coalition Against Breast Cancer and Campaign Center shamelessly exploited New Yorkers’ natural sympathies and generosity,” Schneiderman said. “Instead of benefiting breast cancer victims and their families, millions of dollars were misused for personal benefit.”
The lawsuit alleges the group, its directors—Andrew Smith, Debra Koppelman and Patricia Scott—as well as Campaign Center and its owner, Garrett Morgan, engaged in a scheme to defraud. Smith and Koppelman paid themselves more than $550,000 in combined salaries for 2005 through 2009, in addition to a pension and $155,000 in loans to themselves, according to Schneiderman.
Schneiderman said investigators found that in 2008, the group raised more than $1.4 million and spent only $374 on mammograms and over the past three years it took in more than $4 million but funded mammograms for only 11 women.
None of the funds went to fund breast cancer research or support groups for survivors and their families as promised, according to the attorney general.
A call to the charity was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Any donor who suspects they have been a victim of charitable solicitation fraud should contact the Attorney General’s office at www.charitiesnys.com or by calling 212-416-8402.
The case comes shortly after Schneiderman appointed a committee to examine regulatory burdens on the nonprofit groups that employ about 500,000 people or nearly 18 percent of the work force in the state.
Schneiderman, whose office is responsible for monitoring charities in New York, says the current framework is “untenable” and that officials can police against fraud without imposing needless burdens and costs on the organizations.
The 29-member committee is expected to make recommendations by the end of the year for regulatory and legislative changes.
It will be staffed by Schneiderman’s Charities Bureau chief. Members include directors of nonprofits from around the state.
-With Associated Press.