Wayward charities face little scrutiny

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office completed investigations into 17 complaints against nonprofits in 2011, but few actions were taken by the office tasked with protecting consumers against wayward charities, according to an open records request filed by the Journal-World.

Citizen complaints about nonprofits ranged from not complying with the No-Call Act, to allegations of unregistered charities collecting donations. Several of the complaints allege noncompliance with state laws, while one complaint was lodged against a charity sued by an attorney general in another state.

The Journal-World looked into the charities named in the complaints, and here are some of the findings:

• The American Handicapped and Disadvantaged Workers: Group was soliciting donations in Kansas, though it is not registered in the state as required by state law, nor is it registered with the IRS. The organization also does not appear to have a website or contact information.

• Kansas Veterans Relief Agency: Complaint alleged that organization was collecting money for gift baskets for troops, but there was a lack of contact information on the group’s website. The organization is part of a larger nonprofit group, Common Ground Charities, based out of Indianapolis. Common Ground has been sued by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office twice because of deceptive solicitation practices. The most recent investigation, in 2009, was referred to the IRS, according to a representative from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. Common Ground does not appear to have a website, and the phone number listed on its IRS tax forms is a fax machine number. The number for Kansas Veterans Relief Foundation is disconnected, and it has no contact information on its website.

• Three Feathers: Complaint alleged a person was soliciting donations for a nonprofit by this name. However, there isn’t such an organization registered with the state or the IRS.

The Attorney General’s Office took no action in any of the above cases and did not respond to requests for more information about the process for investigating complaints against nonprofits. The office investigates nonprofits as part of the Charitable Organization and Solicitations Act.

Last year, the Journal-World began investigating a Tonganoxie-based nonprofit, the Purple Heart Veterans Foundation, and discovered numerous problems with the organization. The founder, Andrew Gruber, spent time in a Kansas prison for theft and only 11 cents of every dollar donated was actually reaching veterans. After a series of Journal-World stories on the nonprofit, the Military Order of the Purple Heart sued the Purple Heart Veterans Foundation for trademark infringement. This suit was settled, and Gruber said he dissolved the charity shortly after.

Citizens with concerns about nonprofits can request an investigation online at ag.ks.gov/contact-us/file-a-complaint, or call 785-296-3751.