Local and state officials have labeled as fraudulent and misleading a fund-raising campaign for a California-based organization claiming to provide financial assistance to the families of corrections officers who die in the line of duty.
However, organizers of the fund-raiser insist it is legitimate and have attributed the officials' concerns to a misunderstanding.
Don Dalquest, Douglas County undersheriff, has asked the Kansas attorney general's office to investigate the fund-raiser, which involves a circus sponsored by the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation Inc. of Seaside, Calif.
For two weeks solicitors have been calling local residents and asking them to purchase circus tickets for handicapped children. The circus is scheduled for April 12 at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds and will be put on by Jordan International Circuses.
DALQUEST said he learned about the circus from a solicitor who told him that donations to the fund-raiser would go toward the "Correctional Peace Officers Association of Lawrence."
Because he had never heard of the organization, Dalquest said, he asked for more information. The caller, he said, told him that the funds would be used exclusively for Douglas County officers.
Dalquest said other sheriff's deputies and local police officers received similar calls. Dalquest said local officers are not associated with the project.
"We want the people of Lawrence and Douglas County to know that we're not members of this organization and we didn't give our consent to this," he said, adding that he's concerned money raised in the event will not benefit local officers. "If there are benefits to us, we don't know anything about them."
NEITHER did the Kansas Department of Corrections, which issued a statement Friday advising Kansans to think twice before offering money to solicitors for the fund-raiser.
"I want to encourage anyone who is contacted by the Correctional Peace Officers Association to make their own informed decision whether they purchase tickets to these events," said Corrections Secretary Steven Davies in the written statement. "I just want to make sure that anyone who decides to purchase tickets realizes that the Kansas Department of Corrections is not involved either directly or indirectly with this fund-raiser, nor does the Department or any of its employees stand to benefit in any way from the proceeds of this effort."
Jim Clark, marketing director for Jordan International Circuses in Boise, Idaho, said Friday that he has spoken with Dalquest and has taken steps to avoid any misconceptions. Clark is in charge of the solicitation drive for the circus, which has a contract with the CPOF to perform 21 shows across the country and conduct fund-raising drives for each show.
CLARK SAID that after talking to Dalquest, he told local solicitors to change their sales pitch. Instead of saying they are calling "for the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation in Lawrence," the callers now say they are "here in Lawrence calling for the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation."
Clark said he also has told solicitors not to identify the group by its initials. He said he doesn't want anyone to confuse the foundation with the Kansas Police Officers Assn. (KPOA) or the Kansas Fraternal Order of Police (KFOP).
Clark and Velma Amos, CPOF show operations coordinator, believe Dalquest and Davies are confused about the organization.
Amos said the foundation provides funds for the families of any corrections officer who is the victim of a violent death in the line of duty regardless of whether the officer has donated to the foundation or is a member of the group.
AMOS SENT the Journal-World CPOF documents stating that benefits have gone out to at least 15 families in 12 states.
"Quite frankly, I don't know what to think of this," said Amos, whose husband is a former police officer and police chief. "I've never run into anything like this. I just don't know what to say."
The CPOF is sponsoring circuses in Hutchinson, Emporia, Leavenworth and Lawrence.
Douglas Arlt, circus manager for Jordan International Circuses, estimated Friday that about 240 local residents had pledged to purchase a total of approximately 700 tickets for handicapped children. The tickets cost $4 each, meaning that local residents had pledged about $2,800 so far. Arlt, who currently is in Lawrence, travels ahead of the circus to set up solicitation drives.
Kansas Atty. Gen. Robert Stephan said Friday afternoon that members of his office are investigating the fund-raiser. Stephan would offer few details about the investigation, but said such probes in general have focused on the agency promoting the solicitations.
AMOS AND Clark said that after receiving word about an officer's death from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the CPOF immediately pays $5,000 to the officer's family. The family then receives $2,500 a month for one year. After that, it receives $1,000 a month for another year.
"That's $47,000 to every officer killed in the line of duty," Clark said, adding that local officers are probably unaware of the program because no Kansas officers have died since 1984, when the CPOF was formed.
Amos said she was stunned by the reactions of Dalquest and Davies.
"No, that is totally incorrect," she said after hearing Davies' comment about KDOC employees not being able to benefit from the fund-raiser. "We need to contact him and respond to that."