A Bemidji man says his cognitively impaired father was taken advantage of by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), a leading group opposing abortion that is run by the husband of U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn.

John Charais of Forest Lake made a gift of almost $850,000 in February to MCCL and its affiliated education fund, completely draining a family trust fund. The next day, he died by suicide at age 81.

His son, Nick Charais, stopped payment on the donation checks and says MCCL knew his father wasn't of sound mind when it accepted the money. Now the group is suing Nick Charais in Beltrami County District Court to get the cash.

"Basically, they're trying to strong-arm me because they didn't think I'd fight them back," Charais said. "My dad wasn't right."

A spokesman for MCCL did not respond to a request for comment.

According to court documents, John Charais contacted MCCL in January after seeing news coverage of the group's March for Life at the State Capitol. He said it reminded him of his late wife's deep commitment to causes opposed to abortion and that he wished to make a donation in her honor.

A deal quickly came together. There were seven or eight phone calls and three in-person meetings over the next two weeks, according to court filings. On Feb. 10, John Charais met with MCCL officials, including Executive Director Scott Fischbach, and signed two letters affirming his donation of nearly $842,000. The next day, he died by suicide.

Nick Charais said his mother had no connection to MCCL and was not active in such causes.

"My mom would have done a completely different thing," he said. "She wasn't with this organization, never talked to them."

What's more, he added, his father had informed MCCL of his intent to take his own life.

"That's another reason I'm pissed," Nick Charais said. "He told them he was going to commit suicide. They knew."

In a court filing, MCCL said John Charais had requested a medical test to confirm that he was of sound mind. But his son said John Charais never actually took the test.

The gift was a significant one for MCCL; it is nearly as much as the organization receives in donations in a typical year. During the five years from 2016 to 2020, MCCL and its education fund took in $900,000 to $1.2 million in donations annually, according to federal tax filings.

Charais hasn't formally replied to MCCL's lawsuit, but a legal response will be coming, said his attorney, Joseph Windler.

"We believe it's offensive to portray Mr. Nick Charais as the complaint has portrayed him," Windler said. "We believe that the complaint is without merit. Mr. Nick Charais is still grieving the death of his father and is acting completely appropriately in his duties as trustee."

Windler has moved to dismiss the case, and a hearing has been set for Dec. 29.

"My job as a trustee is to protect the trust," Nick Charais said. "I'm just protecting it from people who I think are animals."

Minnesotans and others struggling with thoughts of suicide or other mental health crises can receive immediate help from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.