When donating to a veteran’s organization, consumers expect their money to go toward a cause that improves the lives of those who made our way of life possible. According to the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the Illinois-based VietNow National Headquarters, Inc. was doing anything but that. In fact, authorities say that less than five percent of contributions from donor states, which includes New York, “went to any charitable programs.” Where did the $15 million that the “shell charity” raised over the past decade via telemarketing efforts go then? According to an Nov. 6, 2017 article from the Chicago Tribune, 80 percent went to for-profit telemarketers and “administrative costs.” That’s discouraging to New York-based attorney Jeffrey Benjamin, who has previously argued claims of deceptive practice in court.
According to the New York State Attorney General’s Office, VietNow will be dissolved and the remaining funds in the coffers — said to be about $545,000 as of this year — will be sent to Fisher House Foundation and Operation Homefront. A total of 24 states joined in the settlement and part of the agreement requires directors of VietNow to assist investigators as they probe the actual activities of the group. Attorney Jeffrey Benjamin is dismayed by the activities of this group, the shady activities of which were exposed in a 2015 Chicago Tribune investigation. Mr. Benjamin says that consumers who donated deserved to know where their money was going, but realizes that unsolicited telemarketing efforts can sometimes catch even the most guarded of us a little off-guard. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, in this Nov. 6, 2017 press release announcing the joint settlement, was equally angered.
“With so many New York veterans in real need, it’s galling that a so-called charity would pretend to help them in an effort to line their own pockets,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Operation Bottomfeeder [a New York operation targeting charities that “exploit popular causes”] should serve as a warning to the scammers who seek to exploit veterans, cancer patients, and other causes to make a quick buck: we will stop you.”
While the attorney general’s office offers a number of tips to help consumers make wise decisions when it comes to donating, Mr. Benjamin wonders what would have happened if this scam wasn’t on such a massive scale. He believes that it’s very likely that those donating money would have never known where it went and the scammers kept the funds for whatever purpose they deemed fit. That’s not the way it’s supposed. Given the fact that Mr. Benjamin previously won a landmark June 2010 jury trial that exposed the defendant as someone who had breached their fiduciary duties, he’s more than ready for discoveries made during due diligence.