Minnesota and five other states are permanently banning a Florida charity that officials say violated promises by steering donations to its president and for-profit marketers instead of to wounded and disabled military veterans.
Attorney General Lori Swanson announced Thursday that she got a consent judgment banning Help the Vets Inc. from soliciting in Minnesota along with action from the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general from Florida, California, Maryland, Ohio and Oregon.
It’s part of a nationwide crackdown on fraudulent charities claiming to help veterans called “Operation Donate With Honor.” It’s also the fifth action that Swanson’s office has taken against deceptive veterans’ charities over the last year.
“Veterans serve our country with honor and distinction,” Swanson, who is one of three DFL candidates for governor in the Aug. 14 primary, said in a statement. “Outfits that take advantage of donors seeking to help veterans have no place in Minnesota.”
According to Swanson’s office, Help the Vets solicited more than $370,000 in donations from more than 2,000 Minnesotans, telling donors their money would go to veterans’ medical care, operate a suicide prevention program for veterans and offer assistance to veterans fighting cancer.
Instead, most of the program, run by its Orlando-based founder Neil Paulson, distributed hotel and chiropractic vouchers that it had already received for free, and officials said the charity couldn’t substantiate that it helped a single veteran.
No one answered a phone number listed for the charity on Thursday.
According to public financial documents, the charity received $19.6 million in contributions and revenue in 2016 and spent $16.4 million of it on grants, salaries and “other expenses.”
According to the FTC, the charity stopped operating in 2017 and a proposed settlement order imposes a judgment of $20.4 million — the total amount of consumers’ donations — and requires Paulson to pay $1.75 million.