The state attorney general has accused a Florida charity of deceiving Minnesota donors who believed they were contributing to a fund to help the families of fallen police officers.
American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens Inc. collected $425,000 in donations from 10,000 Minnesotans from 2011 to 2017 for its "Police Family Survivors Fund," according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Donors were told 100 percent of contributions would be used to help police families but, in reality, only about 9 percent of total donations went to the fund. The charity raised $4 million nationally last year and spent most of that on marketing materials to solicit donations, contracts with for-profit fundraisers and salaries, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said at a news conference.
Swanson alleges the nonprofit's claims violate the state's charity laws and a court agreement reached in 1996 after the Minnesota Attorney General's Office sued the charity for misleading donors.
"They take a good cause that we all want to help and they exploit it," Swanson said.
Representatives of American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens Inc. did not respond to a request for comment.
Dave Metusalem, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said that, in his 30 years in law enforcement, he's never known the Florida charity to help any Minnesota family of a fallen officer. He said preying on the public's sympathies for police families is "unconscionable."
Swanson's office is asking the Minnesota courts to order the nonprofit to stop fundraising in the state, return money to donors and to pay additional civil penalties.
She said the charity specifically targets women over age 70 who are known to donate to charity. The solicitation letters often reference local police departments, leading donors to believe their money helps families here in Minnesota.
Adeline Daniels, of Austin, Minn., gave $470 after receiving letters soliciting money in the mail and later, thank you notes.
"Who would think it wasn't legitimate?" said Daniels, one of two donors who stood with Swanson at the news conference. "Yes, I am angry about it."
Dorothy Holden, of White Bear Lake, donated $50 to the group and said she was upset to learn she'd been misled.
The charity, formerly known as the American Federation of Police Inc., has faced legal trouble elsewhere. It was banned from soliciting donations in Iowa for five years in March 2018, according to the attorney general's lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court.
American Federation of Police and Concerned Citizens Inc. is based in Titusville, Fla. It's CEO and CFO each make about $100,000 a year. According to its tax filings, the nonprofit lists two charitable missions: the police family survivor's fund and "public education activities."
Swanson said most of what the charity classifies as public education is spending on slips of paper that they insert into solicitation letters advising recipients to "wash their hands," "keep clean" and "stay warm." Less than 10 percent of donations went to the police families' survivor's fund, Swanson said.
"They are trying to give just enough to stay ahead of the criminal laws," Swanson said.
A 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision forbids states or the federal government from requiring charities to use a specific portion of donations on their stated mission. But the misleading claims made to donors and false statements in its charitable filings submitted to the state of Minnesota do run afoul of state law, she said.
In July, the state attorney general banned another Florida charity from fundraising in the state because the group allegedly misrepresented its work to help military veterans. Help the Vets raised more than $370,000 from Minnesota donors, promising to pay for veterans' medical care, but Swanson said that didn't happen.