Cuomo sues fundraising companies

Nick Rees Jan. 20, 2010, 5:18pm


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - Lawsuits have been filed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to shut down four professional fundraising companies that allegedly lied, manipulated and deceived to get charitable donations.

The four companies are alleged to consistently violate New York laws during telemarketing calls by disguising their status as paid professional fundraisers and by lying about the programs that would be supported by the donations.

The lawsuit names Caring People Enterprises, Inc., Marketing Squad, Inc., Stage Door Music Productions, Inc., and Suffolk Productions, Inc. These companies, over the past three years, have collectively reported raising $16 million on average, keeping 76 percent of the funds raised.

"These fundraisers manipulate sympathetic donors in order to raise money for the only cause they truly care about - themselves," Cuomo said.

"Exploiting generous New Yorkers, especially in these times of economic distress, is reprehensible, and we must put these operations out of business. However, we cannot let a few rotten apples spoil the whole bunch. As we continue to aggressively pursue fraudulent fundraisers, New Yorkers should feel even more confident in giving now."

In New York, it is illegal to use deceptive or misleading practices to fundraise. Anyone soliciting for charities in the state is required to provide a clear description of the program and activities for which the donations are requested or state that such information is available from the charity.

Additionally, the name of the professional fundraising company and the name of the individual professional telemarketer must be disclosed as well as the fact that the telemarketer is being paid. Professional fundraisers are also required to register and file reports with the Attorney General's Office.

As part of an investigation into the companies, undercover investigators secured jobs at the companies, which trained them to carry out fraudulent practices, Cuomo claims. The investigators also observed employees making false statements to the public during phone solicitations, Cuomo claims.

Telemarketers were revealed by the investigation to be using aliases and illegally failing to disclose that they were paid fundraisers, giving the appearance that donors were giving directly to charity.

The telemarketers were also observed changing the names of charities to make them sound similar to well-known charities or causes, making them more appealing to donors, Cuomo says. The telemarketers also lied about the programs client charities provided and created the false impression that they were law enforcement officials, Cuomo says.

The investigation also found that the companies had filed false annual documents with the attorney general's office that contained fake scripts made to appear as if they were used by the telemarketers.

Cuomo's lawsuit seeks to shut down the companies, cancel their registrations as professional fundraisers and prevent them from further soliciting the public. Penalties and restitution are also sought.

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