|July 19, 2018
Contact: Whitney Ray
Phone: (850) 245-0150
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla.––Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, the Federal Trade Commission, charity regulators and state attorneys general from around the country today announced Operation Donate with Honor. This sweeping new donor education campaign is intended to help donors spot and avoid dubious fundraising solicitations that falsely promise donations will go toward helping veterans and service members. The new campaign also highlights several new and recent law enforcement actions involving charity scams in this area undertaken by the FTC and numerous states.
“July is Military Consumer Protection Month and one way to protect our veterans and service members is to stop scammers who exploit military members in an effort to steal charitable donations. It is reprehensible that anyone would prey on the good intentions of people trying to help our heroes and I will not let the immoral actions of a few bad actors taint the good work of our legitimate charities,” said Attorney General Bondi.
“Our nation’s heroes deserve our full support, and unfortunately, some unscrupulous individuals seek to exploit generous Floridians who want to help our nation’s veterans. We will do everything in our power to protect those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, and I’m proud to stand with Attorney General Bondi to combat charity-related scams,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Included in the nationwide campaign is a case recently settled by the Florida Attorney General, the FTC and five other state attorneys general, against Help the Vets, Inc., a sham veterans’ charity in Orlando, Fla., and its founder, Neil Paulson, Sr. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services assisted with the investigation. The complaint in this case, filed at the same time as the settlement agreement in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando, charges Help the Vets raised approximately $20 million between 2014 and 2017 from donors nationwide based on misleading promises that the donations would assist veterans by providing funding for grants, medical care, a suicide prevention program, therapeutic family retreats and similar programs.
Instead, donations almost entirely benefited the private interests of Paulson and the professional fundraisers he authorized to perform the deceptive solicitations. Help the Vets and Paulson have signed a Stipulated Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction, in which Help the Vets will relinquish its remaining assets, at least $72,122. Additionally, Paulson will pay $1.75 million, more than double the amount Paulson personally received from Help the Vets, to one or more legitimate veterans charities, subject to court approval. Injunctive relief against Help the Vets and Paulson includes a permanent ban against soliciting charitable contributions. Paulson is further banned from charity management and oversight of charitable assets. Help the Vets Inc., is no longer registered with FDACS.
To view the complaint, click here.
In 2017 alone, Americans donated approximately $287 billion to charities. Illegitimate charities hurt our communities by taking donor money under false pretenses and diverting it away from legitimate charities. Many charities provide important services and have a tremendous impact on our community, but with a wide variety of charities to choose from and many ways to donate, it is even more important to do research before donating. This research can include using the Check-A-Charity tool and other resources offered the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services available on the FDACS website.
The Help the Vets settlement is just one of many actions taken as part of this joint nationwide effort to combat deception related to charitable giving.
Any service member, veteran or military family member who encounters a scam should reach out directly to the Florida Attorney General’s Office through the Military Veterans Assistance Program. MVAP can be accessed at MyFloridaLegal.com/MVAP.