According to the lawsuit, Cops for Kids collected more than $4.2 million from Ohio donors while it was operating from 2005-2015, but less than 2 percent of that money was actually given to any charity.
DeWine says over $3.34 million was given to Telcom Enterprises and $802,662 was spent on salaries and overhead. Only $73, 840 actually went toward charity -- that's only about 80 cents per $100.
"We believe Cops for Kids is a sham operation that has defrauded Ohioans out of millions of dollars while performing almost no legitimate charitable work," adds DeWine.
Investigators say Cops for Kids only sent a few boxes of teddy bears to police departments, wrote checks to other agencies and funded some $500 college scholarships issued by other organizations.
The organizers of Cops for Kids are identified by DeWine as Thomas Duffy and Charles Hitzel, both of Ashtabula.
Besides restitution, damages and civil penalties, the lawsuit is also seeking to dissolve Cops For Kids and distribute its assets to other charities.
Here are four of the Attorney General's tips on giving this holiday season:
- 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.