Archive for Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tonganoxie’s Purple Heart Veterans Foundation founder and brother have checkered pasts

August 21, 2011

A felony theft conviction, multiple arrests and a police report about assaulting an employee.

The more you dig into the Tonganoxie-based Purple Heart Veterans Foundation and its fundraising contractor, the worse it looks for the charity that’s been collecting donations in front of local businesses.

Representatives from several nonprofit watchdog groups expressed concerns about the organization in an Aug. 7 Journal-World article after an investigation showed that only 11 cents of every dollar donated goes to support veterans, which is the stated goal of the nonprofit. In addition, nearly 80 percent of the $540,000 raised by the charity in 2010 was paid to a fundraising business, Independent Promotions, run by foundation director Andrew Gruber’s brother, Scott Gruber.

Further investigation has revealed that Andrew spent time in a Kansas prison for felony theft after pleading guilty to stealing a rental car in 2000. Gruber was sentenced to probation and restitution in the case but failed to make timely payments toward the $11,000 court-ordered victim restitution and missed numerous court appearances. Gruber’s probation was revoked in 2004, and he served a six-month prison sentence.

A criminal record search with the state of Indiana also found Scott Gruber has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for public intoxication, criminal confinement, domestic battery and criminal recklessness, as well as arrests for other offenses.

In addition, the records search found an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department report from August 2010 detailing allegations that Scott assaulted one of his employees, who was raising funds at a Walmart for another nonprofit Andrew founded, Kids Vs. Cancer. The employee alleges Scott assaulted and threatened him because the employee did not raise enough money during the shift. No arrest was made because the employee chose not to press charges.

“I need a job more than I need (Scott) arrested,” the employee said, according to the police report.

Andrew, who previously defended hiring his brother’s business for fundraising, did not return calls or emails from the Journal-World for this article.

The Journal-World was unable to contact Scott, whose company does not have a website or listed telephone number.

Legality?

While several nonprofit analysts who reviewed the tax forms for Andrew Gruber’s foundation didn’t see anything illegal in the operations of the charity, Gruber’s felony theft conviction could provide an avenue for action by county or state officials.

Kansas law governing charitable organizations gives county attorneys and the state Attorney General’s Office the option of filing a restraining order or injunction against a charity if anyone who solicits for the organization has a conviction based on “misappropriation, misapplication or misuse of money or property of another.”

Jeff Wagaman, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said the office is “aware of the situation,” though he did not elaborate.

Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson said he had not heard about the nonprofit and wasn’t aware of any investigation by law enforcement. However, Thompson said his office would consider looking into options once he learns more about the situation.

“We’re more than willing to do something,” Thompson said.

Store level

The Purple Heart Veterans Foundation was soliciting donations recently at two local stores, Walmart, 3300 Iowa, and Dillons, 1015 W. 23rd St.

Walmart, based on the Journal-World’s investigation, has banned Gruber’s organization from soliciting in front of the store, said Ashley Hardie, a spokeswoman for Walmart. Hardie said it was unclear which other stores Gruber’s charities solicit in front of nationally, and she could not locate information about which, if any, other Walmart stores had banned Gruber’s charities. Hardie said which organizations are allowed to solicit in front of Walmart stores is decided at store level by the store manager, and organizations must provide proof of IRS tax-exempt nonprofit status.

A Dillons spokesman did not return Journal-World calls inquiring about the status of Gruber’s nonprofits solicitation of donations.

Laurie Styron, a nonprofit analyst with the American Institute of Philanthropy, advised donors to focus on well-established nonprofits, and she recommended avoiding donating to groups soliciting in front of stores, especially if they’re an unknown group.

“Don’t give on the spot,” she said.

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