March 9, 2017
LANSING — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced a Notice of Intended Action and Cease and Desist Order against VietNow National Headquarters, Inc., an Illinois-based charity, for allegedly violating the Charitable Organizations and Solicitations Act.
Violations include deceptive solicitations and spending donations improperly. The Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Section investigated the truthfulness of VietNow’s solicitations which stated that money would benefit Michigan veterans and in response to the Attorney General’s inquires, VietNow admitted that it had not funded any programs that assisted Michigan veterans. Other scripts claimed that VietNow provided “medical facilities and treatment” to veterans, but VietNow’s response identified no such programs.
“Deceptive charities tarnish the good name of the charitable sector,” said Schuette. “Charities that lie and thereby exploit the generosity of Michigan donors won’t do business here.”
The Notice of Intended Action alleges 16,422 violations, with maximum penalties of $10,000 per violation. It also orders VietNow to cease and desist these violations and gives VietNow twenty-one days to resolve the matter or face a civil action in court. Concurrent with the Notice of Intended Action, the Attorney General is also issuing VietNow a Notice of Intent to revoke its charitable solicitations registration.
Since March 2015, VietNow—which also uses the name VeteransNow—has been raising money using deceptive telemarketing solicitation scripts authorized by VietNow’s President, Joseph Lewis. The scripts tell potential donors that VietNow gives a minimum of 12 percent after expenses back to veterans in the donors’ state; other scripts state that donations will help local Michigan veterans. Using these scripts, VietNow raised $1.93 million nationwide, including $53,414 in Michigan; but only .2%, or $3,923, went to veterans programs; and contrary to VietNow’s scripts, none of the money raised went to Michigan vets or provided “medical facilities or treatment.” Instead, most donations went to the charity’s professional fundraisers.
The Attorney General’s investigation into VietNow, like its recent enforcement actions against Breast Cancer Outreach Foundation and Help the Vets, stemmed from the Attorney General’s 2016 investigation into professional fundraiser Corporations for Character, which resulted in a monetary settlement and a four-year ban on soliciting in Michigan. VietNow also used Corporations for Character for some of its fundraising, a fact which led the Attorney General to scrutinize VietNow’s fundraising scripts in light of its purported charitable programs.
Complaints regarding charitable solicitations may be filed through the Attorney General’s online complaint form, or by mailing the Charitable Trust Section at P.O. Box 30214, Lansing, MI 48909-7714, or by emailing the Charitable Trust Section.
To assist individuals in making wise decisions regarding which charitable donations to support, Attorney General Schuette established an online searchable database for charities. The Attorney General also publishes an annual professional fundraising charitable solicitation report. Through these resources, users have access to information to aid them in determining which charities are worth supporting—and which are not. The Attorney General's Charitable Trust Section is also available at 517-373-1152 to answer inquiries about a charity.