The operators of a purported charity who claimed to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy have been temporarily barred from soliciting additional donations, and must preserve the money and items donated to date, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office reported.
The Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation (“HSRF”) and its two operators also agreed to place the approximately $631,000.00 donated to date and any donations that come in after this point into an interest-bearing attorneys’ escrow account. The operators, both residents of Sparta, also must deposit $13,596.53 into the account. The State in its lawsuit alleged that they had transferred that amount into their personal accounts from HSRF accounts.
“This is an important step toward ensuring that these donations go toward aiding Sandy victims as this organization represented to donors,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said.
In addition to monetary donations, the state is preserving the remainder of approximately $400,000 in donated items now stored in a warehouse, as well as unused gift cards. Items will be donated to a registered charity.
In addition, the defendants must post notices online stating that the Foundation is not a tax-exempt organization and that it has filed an application to obtain such status, and must remove an online site titled “Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund,” and to post notice that the Foundation is not affiliated with the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, preserve all records, and provide the Division with the names and contact information of all donors.
“I urge everyone who wants to help those suffering from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy to use the resources of this Division to perform their due diligence before making a donation,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “Along with information, we have investigators ready to act on consumer complaints about suspicious ‘charities’ and requests for donations.”
The Division of Consumer Affairs, through its “Investigate Before You Donate” campaign, encourages New Jersey consumers to learn as much as possible about any charity before deciding to make a donation.