In August 2009, Neal Rubin wrote a scathing piece for The Detroit News about the National Children’s Leukemia Foundation, or NCLF.
It wasn’t the first time the writer took on the organization based in Brooklyn, New York. It raised money for years nationwide as a “charity,” though Rubin’s research turned up little in the way of charitable activity.
It did turn up complaints by the president of the Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan, William Seklar. His group has been spending at least 80 percent of the money it raises on getting information, financial aid and emotional support to families facing life-threatening blood disorders.
NCLF consistently has done much less, according to Rubin and more recently to investigators with the attorney general for New York state. Last month, New York’s attorney general filed a petition in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn to shut down the group and recover money the AG’s office said had been raised through fraud.
The petition cited what it called exorbitant fees for telemarketing and direct mail campaigns, more than 80 percent of the $9.7 million NCLF raked in from mid-2009 to mid-2013. Those court documents found a total of $57,451 in “direct cash assistance to leukemia patients” over the four-year period.
The petition said the foundation really was a one-man operation run by Zvi Shor, who started NCLF in 1991 after he lost a child to leukemia. Court papers showed Shor paid himself $595,000 in salary and $600,000 in deferred compensation from 2009 to 2013, plus a promised lifetime pension of more than $100,000 per year.
The foundation’s phone number is disconnected and its website has disappeared. Shor’s attorney, Douglas Gross, told the New York Times he thinks the AG’s claims are baseless.
“Mr. Shor began this charity and ran it with the best of intentions,” Gross said.
While the New York attorney general’s office includes a charities bureau, the state does not have a law that makes charities fraud a crime. Criminal prosecutions there usually involve tax fraud, embezzlement or larceny.
Records on file with Maine’s Department of Professional and Financial Responsibility show NCLF was registered as a charity and thereby able to solicit funds in Maine in 2004. The records indicate the organization did not renew its license after that.
It’s important to remember that charitable giving works best when your donations do the good work you intended to have done. Giving to “sound-alike” charities may benefit the organizers and professional fundraisers most.
Keep in mind that very few legitimate charities “cold call” people. The good ones are happy to mail you information about their services and to explain what percentage of money raised goes to programs. The good ones won’t pressure you for a credit card number now; they’ll gladly take your check when you are ready.
Guidestar, Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, are probably the most often used resources to check out charities. The Tampa Bay Times published results of a lengthy investigation of bad charities, which can be found at http://tampabay.com/americas-worst-charities/.
The Center for Investigative Reporting published similar findings at http://cironline.org/americasworstcharities.
Check charities licensed to solicit funds in Maine at maine.gov/pfr and see “licensee search and status” under Consumer Tools. Consider supporting charities that operate close to your home. There’s nothing like a personal visit to see how things run and to have your questions answered.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.