RED, WHITE & GREEN: Profiting Off a Tragedy
While America suffered through one of its darkest hours, heroes were born, donations poured in and opportunistic con-artists got down to business. Officials in New York have recently launched investigations into 9/11 charities suspected of misspending charity dollars and betraying public trust. According to published news reports, everyone from ministers to celebrities tried to make a quick buck in 9/11’s wake.
Manhattan nonprofit organization Urban Life Ministries, created by Rev. Carl Keyes, who worked near Ground Zero during the attacks, stopped filing the proper documents with New York State to disclose how funds were spent after only one year in existence. Keyes said Urban Life raised more than $4 million through a Christian TV telethon to help the victims of September 11th and their families. Those first-year documents only account for $670,000 and show salaries being paid to Keyes, his family and church. Keyes still denies any wrongdoing and attributes the bad numbers to poor management. But there were no excuses given by a former Navy officer working at the Pentagon during the attacks who allegedly faked an injury in an attempt to collect $300,000 from a 9/11 victim’s fund. Nor was there any justifying the six-figure salaries—some more than $300,000—that nearly a dozen staff members of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum were paid using public donations.
Connecticut resident John Michelotti raised $140,000 for his Flag of Honor/Flag of Heroes Project—and then used the money to fund his own business. Michelotti began selling flags listing the names of those who died on September 11—also under the guise of raising money for those affected by the tragedy. But Michelotti says he plans to donate 70 cents from the sale of each flag to charity. He’ll keep the leftover $19.30 for himself. And on a grander scale, the National Collector’s Mint of Port Chester, N.Y., released its 10th Anniversary Sept. 11 Commemorative Dollar the company claims is made from silver found at Ground Zero. The government stepped in, calling the advertisements misleading and a way of duping the public into thinking the coins were legal tender. The company denies any wrongdoing and says the government is just trying to undercut its competition.
All My Children soap actor Jack Scalia started Lest We Forget, a 9/11 charity in New York, soon after the terrorist attacks, collecting cash through appearances and events. But he has no idea what happened to the money after it was collected. The charity never filed any paperwork with New York State in its 10-year existence. And another celebrity-backed charity, this one run by figure-skating agent Tara Modlin, never handed out a penny. Modlin claimed to have raised more than $600,000 in scholarship money for victims’ families through “Stars, Stripes and Skates” events but instead used the money to put up featured Olympic skaters like Nancy Kerrigan, Oksana Baiul, Viktor Petrenko and Sasha Cohen.
An estimated $2 billion in public donations has been received by various 9/11 related organizations since the 2001 attacks. And, according to CharityNavigator.org,, while most of these funds have served their intended purpose, at least 100 of these charities have disappeared into thin air.