LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced his office has filed a Notice of Intended Action and Cease and Desist Order against Firefighters Support Services of Wyandotte, and its professional fundraiser, Associated Community Services of Southfield.
In the filing, Schuette alleges Firefighters Support Services’ charitable solicitations have included misleading, deceptive, or false statements in their solicitations.
“This is another example of a sympathetic cause—firefighters and those losing their homes from fire—being exploited by scammers,” Schuette said. He also cautioned donors: “The best defense against such scams is to do your homework or donate to a known charity. You don’t know who’s on the other end of the call or whether you can trust them.”
The solicitations inform call recipients that Firefighters Support Services helps firefighters get better equipment and helps “families that have been burned out of their homes by providing them with food, shelter, and clothing” or “financial support.”
During the period of these solicitations, Firefighters Support Services has raised $4.2 million from donors throughout the nation, yet was unable to identify any grants of food, shelter, or clothing to families that have been burned out of their homes. Firefighters Support Services was able to identify three grants totaling $5,586.06 to individuals—not families—for the purpose of fire loss relief. These grants represent one-tenth of one percent of the $4.2 million raised during this period.
The Notice of Intended Action orders Firefighters Support Services and its fundraiser Associated Community Services to cease and desist these misleading, deceptive, and false solicitations and advises Firefighters Support Services of the Attorney General’s intention to bring a civil action seeking redress, including restitution, injunctive relief, and civil fines of up to $10,000 per violation for every one of Firefighters Support Services’ more than two million violations.
The Notice of Intended Action also alleges that Firefighters Support Services has made numerous false statements on its annual financial statements that it files with both the IRS and the Attorney General. In particular, Firefighters Supports Services claims to run a blanket donation program for fire stations valued at roughly $500,000 per year. The value of the program, which is based on a valuation of $20.83 per blanket, is vastly overstated. In fact, the blankets were purchased by Congress, i.e., by taxpayers, for $4.97 per blanket with the purpose of combating homelessness. The per-blanket cost even includes free shipping to charities around the country that have been endorsed to participate in the program. Firefighters Support Services, which has not been endorsed to participate in the Congressional program, obtains the blankets from the charity World Assist and pays thousands of dollars per shipment to a third-party, Charity Services International, to ship the blankets to various fire stations around the country. Firefighters Support Services does not disclose this “charitable” program to donors. In reports to the IRS and the Attorney General, they described the activity as providing “medical supplies to various fire departments.”
Schuette also reminded that some telemarketers, such as Associated Community Services in the present case, keep 85% or more of each donation. Schuette encouraged donors to research their own charities and to give directly to the charity. For more information, see the Attorney General’s 2015 Professional Fundraising Charitable Solicitation Report.