Operators Of Bogus 9/11 Charity Ordered To Pay Donations Back
The two operators of a bogus charity who falsely claimed to be supporting the families of emergency responders who died at the World Trade Center on 9-11 have been ordered to disgorge $121,116 in donations, pay civil penalties and are permanently barred from working for any charitable organization in New Jersey, under terms of a Final Consent Judgment that resolves a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Jeff Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.
The state in July 2011 filed suit against Mark Anthony Niemczyk and Thomas J. Scalgione for defrauding donors by using the monies to enrich themselves instead of giving it to the 9-11 victims’ families.
Under the Final Consent Judgment, Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls and Scalgione, 40, of Manahawkin, admitted to committing multiple violations of the state’s Charities Registration and Investigation Act, including operating an unregistered charity.
“This case illustrates how charlatans will use a tragic event, and the pretext of helping those in need, to profit themselves. We’re on alert for similar scams in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and consumers should perform due diligence before making donations if they are contacted and asked to aid storm victims,” Attorney General Chiesa said.
The Division of Consumer Affairs maintains an online, searchable database of the approximately 26,000 charitable organizations that are registered to operate in New Jersey. Attorney General Chiesa noted that the Division of Consumer Affairs to date has registered only one charity created specifically to aid individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy. That organization, Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, was created by First Lady Mary Pat Christie.
“We have zero tolerance for those who attempt to enrich themselves by using emotional appeals following a tragedy or disaster to defraud consumers who want to help those in need,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “The Division will seek swift and severe action against those who use the name of a just cause to enrich themselves.”
Niemczyk and Scalgione brought a custom-painted pickup truck to public events, where they sold t-shirts featuring the logos of the New York City police and fire departments and also took cash donations, under the guise of helping the families of fallen first responders. They were not authorized to use the logos and not legally allowed to solicit the donations. The pickup truck had painted images of the World Trade Center and listed the names of first responders who perished there. According to the factual findings in the Final Consent Judgment, no money went to the victims’ family members.
The Court in August granted temporary restraints requested by the State, including the impoundment of the pickup truck. Niemczyk and Scalgione also were ordered to stop soliciting donations from the public.
Niemczyk is the owner of the pickup truck, while Scalgione functioned as its booking agent and publicized where the truck would be on display. The truck has since been repossessed by its financing company.
The donations and money raised through t-shirt sales were commingled in Niemczyk’s personal bank account, which he used for personal expenses and for upkeep and maintenance of the truck. In addition to the disgorgement of $121,116, Niemczyk was assessed $98,993 in civil penalties and reimbursement of the State’s costs in bringing this case. The assessment is suspended but will become immediately payable if he violates the terms of the Final Consent Judgment.
Scalgione was assessed $73,993 in civil penalties and reimbursement of the State’s costs, and ordered to pay $1,000. The remaining assessment is suspended but will become immediately payable if he violates the terms of the Final Consent Judgment.
Deputy Attorney General Anna M. Lascurain in the Division of Law represented the State in this matter. Investigators William Plowman and Patrick Mullan in the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Protection, Charities Enforcement Unit, conducted the investigation.
The Attorney General and Division of Consumer Affairs offered the following advice for consumers seeking to make donations to help those affected by the unprecedented storm:
- Before donating to a charity, find out whether the organization is registered with the Division of Consumer Affairs, or is exempt from the registration requirement. (Certain religious and educational organizations, and charities that raise less than $10,000 annually in contributions, are exempt).
- Learn how, exactly, the charity plans to use your money. Learn how much the charity spent during recent fiscal years on program costs, management costs, and fundraising. Learn about the charity’s stated mission.
- The charity should readily provide all of this information to you. Verify the information by calling the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Charities Registration Hotline at 973-504-6215, or go to the Division’s Charities Registration page.
Consumers can find this information with the Division’s free New Jersey Charity Search smartphone app.