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Sunday, January 1, 2006

01-0106 Greenwich Police group eyed in probe

A now-defunct fraternal police group using the Greenwich name for its fundraising has been under scrutiny for several years for how it represented itself and how it used the money it collected.
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said yesterday his office is investigating the Greenwich Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police Gateway Lodge 21 for possible misuse of donor funds.But the president of that defunct group, Frank Colello, a Carmel, N.Y., man who works as an investigator for the state judicial division, said he has accounted for all the money raised by the group, and that much of it was spent on legal fees to sue the state chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police after it revoked the group's charter.
Lt. Thomas Keegan, fund drive chairman for the Greenwich Silver Shield Association, said the group was not affiliated with the Greenwich Police Department, but Colello said some individual Greenwich police officers were members.
It could not be confirmed this week whether any were.The Greenwich Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police Gateway Lodge 21 had a post office box in Cos Cob, but no physical office here. Its officers ran the lodge out of their own work offices in Stamford.
At the time its charter was revoked by state chapter, the Greenwich lodge was extending benefit coverage to about 640 law enforcement officers from around the state, Colello said."I brought the Public Charities Unit all of the records and showed them where the money went," Colello said. "I never heard back from them again, so if they weren't happy with the report they never told me."The remnants of the Greenwich lodge have reincorporated as a nonprofit group named the Connecticut Association of Police Officers Inc., Mark Pesiri, of Stamford, a state marshal and president of that group, said. The group offers disability and line of duty death insurance, tuition for law enforcement courses for officers, as well as various scholarships for high school students, Pesiri said.
According to a recent state report on paid soliciting campaigns for charities, the Gateway Lodge 21 allowed its paid soliciting company, All-Pro Marketing of Fairfield, N.J., to keep more than 80 percent of the $1 million raised over several years for the group. This return rate is one of the lowest in the report.
Blumenthal declined comment on what type of misuse of funds was being probed."Our investigation concerns first the organization itself and how it used and managed money that it received from contributors," Blumenthal said. "All-Pro's methods are related to that."The state Fraternal Order of Police, based in New Britain, revoked the Greenwich lodge's charter in 2002 based on the group continuing to raise funds separately from the state lodge, according to the state lodge's president, John Flynn.
Flynn succeeded Colello as president of the statewide organization."We ended up disciplining them and revoking their charter, and fundraising was the main issue," said Flynn. "They were misusing the name and they sued us and we actually won."Colello said he has good records of the money spent by the group, and that the roughly $60,000 left in the coffers after the group lost its charter in 2002 was awarded to a variety of law enforcement and other agencies around the state.
Those awards included $25,209 to a lodge made up of federal correctional officers in Danbury for classes, $2,000 to the Stamford Youth Associa-tion, and $2,920 for special training grants for police officers, and $3,010 for state Lodge 6, Colello said."We were pretty busy giving that money out and it wasn't spent on beer, parties, or anything like that," Colello said.
Blumenthal said that the percentage of charitable donations that All-Pro Marketing and other paid soliciting firms keep may be disturbing, but there is nothing illegal about it.Other local law enforcement membership groups and benevolent associations received back between 25 and 45 percent of the fundraising take from their paid solicitors, according to the report. Other groups listed in the report raising money through paid campaigns generally received more than 50 percent of the total collected, including groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national tolerance education organization that tracks hate groups, which kept 76 percent of the total funds raised by its solicitor, Telefund.
Mark Galvan, president of All-Pro Marketing, defended the ethics behind his company's keeping the majority of the money it raises, saying the overhead to collect relatively low donations is much higher than that of local groups."You have to compare apples to apples," Galvan said. "The average donation is about $20, and . . . only about half the people honor their pledges. You have to call four times as many people to raise the same amount of money."
Blumenthal said that under a U.S. Supreme Court decision there is no minimum percentage that paid soliciting firms must return to the charitable groups they raise funds for.Potential donors have to determine whether the firm soliciting them is misrepresenting their connection to their communities, he said."They have to be accurate in what they are saying or they could be prosecuted,"
Blumenthal said of the firm.Flynn said the state chapter will not renew its contract with its paid soliciting company, the Civic Development Group Inc., and will begin to conduct its own fundraising, allowing it to keep 90 percent of the gross collected.Keegan said that the Green-wich Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police has never given money directly to the Silver Shield Association."It does seem like a misuse of our name," Keegan said.
According to the state report, the Greenwich Silver Shield Association in 2004 also contracted with a paid solicitor, LPC Fundraising of Framing-ham, Mass., and only received 28 percent of the $46,000 raised.
Keegan said LPC also alienated many residents with its aggressive telephone fundraising campaign, and that the Silver Shield Association won't hire another paid solicitor because their profit motive drives obnoxious fundraising efforts.All future campaigns will be conducted by mail, so residents will know that phone solicitations on behalf of the Silver Shield Association are not legitimate, Keegan said.
Money donated by the public to the Silver Shield Association helps fund events promoting safety and better community relations, providing bulletproof vests for active officers, tuition for children of police officers and sponsoring local youth athletics, Keegan said."We realized that the members of our community are extremely generous and charitable and do not need the annoyance of an organization contacting them in a bothersome way," Keegan said. "It was the first and last time the Silver Shield Association will enter into a similar arrangement."
Article sourced from:
Greenwich Time - Greenwich, CT, USA
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