Prosecutor Goes After Charity And Fundraiser

August 13, 2013       Mark Hrywna      

One of the so-called “worst charities” in America and its fundraising vendor are in the cross hairs of at least one state charity official. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has filed a consumer-protection lawsuit against a New Jersey-based charity and its Conway, Ark.-based fundraiser.

The lawsuit alleges that National Police Defense Foundation (NPDF) contributed just $500 to charitable purposes out of the $231,004 it raised in the state. The bulk of the money went to USA Publishing Group, Inc., of Conway, Ark., which was hired by the foundation to solicit donations from Arkansas consumers.

NPDF and several of the fundraising vendors it uses were among the subjects in a comprehensive report by The Tampa Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) called “America’s Worst Charities.” NPDF was ranked No. 31 on the list. “Of the $10 million raised over the past decade, $8 million has gone to professional fundraisers while 4 percent has been spent on legal defense, rewards and other direct aid,” according to the report. In addition, the foundation gets a zero star rating from watchdog group Charity Navigator.

McDaniel alleges that the two entities misled residents into believing their donations were benefiting the state’s emergency responders, thus violating the states’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act by “intentionally making false, untrue or misleading statements to prospective donors.” Telemarketers often “misrepresented themselves as police officers, firefighters or first responders,” according to McDaniel. He also claims that NPDF operated in Arkansas under assumed names such as “Arkansas Police Defense Foundation,” “Deputy Sheriffs and Peace Officers Foundation” and “Firefighters and EMS Foundation” while also giving the false impression that the charity was based in Arkansas.

The National Police Defense Foundation of Morganville, N.J., USA Publishing and its owners William Parker and Kathleen Parker are defendants in the suit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

NPDF founder Joseph Occhipinti referred inquires to Bonnie Johnson, an attorney with Little Rock, Ark.-based Williams & Anderson, who did not return a phone call seeking comment. In other published reports, Occhipinti said he has severed ties with USA Publishing.

NPDF offers medical and legal support to law enforcement personnel and their families while also paying cash rewards to people who help solve officer shootings. The organization reported total revenue of $1.973 million last year, primarily from cash contributions and grants, with $234,459 in membership dues.

Almost 80 percent of the charity’s $1.64 million in total expenses went toward professional fundraising fees — some $1.3 million. Program expenses represented less than 17 percent of expenses, with $278,523 recorded. Included among those expenses was $71,754 in grants and assistance to individuals.

Program service accomplishments listed in the organization’s 30-page IRS Form 990 last year were:

  • $53,971, legal defense and medical support to law enforcement personnel and families;
  • $130,657, Operation Kids, which provides various benefits for children; and,
  • $40,039, Safe Cop programs provides support and benefits for injured and slain cops.

USA Marketing was among three firms listed on the 990’s Schedule G, “Supplemental Information Regarding Fundraising or Gaming Activities.” All three took in far more than the nonprofit received:

  • USA Marketing was paid $227,723, while raising $82,537;
  • Menacola Marketing of Brooklyn, N.Y., paid $630,788 raised $128,881 for NPDF; and,
  • Profit Marketing of Woodbridge, N.J., paid $447,916 raised $104,106.

In all, the three firms were paid $1.305 million while the nonprofit received $315,514, about one-quarter the amount. The only paid employee of NPDF is Angela Occhipinti, the wife of founder Joseph Occhipinti, who earned total compensation of $73,866 as office administrator last year.