The appropriation of funds for those in need during the holiday season has become such a huge business for some of America's charitable organizations, that we talk in terms of billions of dollars donate by Americans every year to some organizations who most of us have heard of, but really know very little about. The sad fact is that there are some of these boiler room charities whose sole purpose is the raising of funds to feed their corporate appetite for raising more money. At some of these scandal plagued charities in name only, less than 10% of the money donated is actually put to the use that donors intend it for. And with little to no government oversight, combined with the refusal by some of these places to open up their books to the public, we can safely assume the have something to hide.
One of the best watchdog type of agencies that receive almost no publicity mainly due to the fact that they expose the corrupt charities, down to the dollar amounts received and the outflow of dollars going to what the charity's stated mission is, is an organization called the Charity Navigator. Being the research type, I run through their site on a regular basis, and was appalled at some of the outright fraud they know all about, but the general public is blissfully unaware of.
Let's have a peek at what's going on behind the scene at one of America's worst charities.
Starting with the American Red Cross, there is literally an entire section of the Charity Navigator's site devoted to this most corrupt and mismanaged so called charity, with an entire blog section that details so many instances of embezzlement that has gone unpunished and money that has been donated by good hearted Americans that can not be accounted for, that one must wonder exactly why this corporation exists in the first place.
Two of the largest scandals to rock this agency in recent memory have been the misuse and outright theft of funds given generously by the public to help the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and Hurricane Katrina.
According to aid workers, and directors of agencies set up in the aftermath of these incidents, money that was supposed to flow into the coffers of agencies to be distributed to the actual victims of these disasters has never been received, causing untold misery for those who have the most need. So what is going on at the Red Cross and why can't they keep a national chapter head for very long? And where are the billions of dollars in donations that were given to the charity in the aftermath of Katrina? One of the answers buried on page six should help to clarify things just a little.
First and foremost, and not known by most, is the fact that the Red Cross is now packed full of Bush appointees. The very same people who have taken the nation as a whole down the road to ruin, are also the people who sit on the ARC's Board of Directors, such as Michael Chertoff, and Condoleeza Rice, among others who also work in the Bush Administration.
The most recent head of the Red Cross was quietly fired, with almost no attention paid to the fact that the reason that he was released was due to his having an affair with the head of the South East Red Cross Chapter. Mark Everson, the Red Cross National Chapter appointee, and Paige Roberts, of the South East Chapter were both married, and Roberts is now pregnant with Everson's child. But even more important is the issue of monies that are alleged to have been used by both to carry on their affair, that came from the coffers of the Red Cross. In any other corporation, someone would be on their way to jail for this type of activity, but for some reason, the Red Cross seems to be moving swiftly to cover up the entire incident and sweep it all under their proverbial rug.
All mention of the scandal is disappearing from their individual chapter web sites faster than one can find the postings, and in fact, all references to the scandal are being pulled from even pages on AOL. Going further, the web site for the South East Chapter is gone entirely, and is currently 'under construction.'
Who would have that type of pull? Again, all we have to do is look at the Board of Directors. The secrecy and refusal to disclose information is so in step with the Bush White House policy, that it has now become almost impossible to differentiate between the administration and the charity. They have become essentially one and the same, which was never the intent of the founders of the Red Cross. Could this be just another chapter in the saga of this administration's middle finger to America's poor? Much in the vein of the appointments of unqualified people running FEMA, Everson's appointment to the Red Cross chair was suspect from the outset, as he had absolutely no experience whatsoever in running any charitable organization, coming, as he did, from being the former Commissioner of the IRS.
Public statements by the Red Cross about the misuse of funds by Everson and Roberts are vague and only say that the matter is being looked into. Privately, Red Cross and industry insiders talk of the fuming mad Board looking for any amount misspent by the pair and how they intend to make them pay any money used back.
All of this would be bad enough, but when one starts to delve just a little deeper into what happens to the money that is donated to the Red Cross, a pattern begins to emerge. Going into just the 25 million dollar donation by the country of Kuwait earmarked for the victims of Katrina, the pattern of misuse becomes clear. None of the 25 million dollars went to aid any victim. It was used instead, on 'administrative costs.'
Kirby Sommers, who heads Katrina Home Drive, has looked into where a lot of the theft has been happening, and has compiled a startling list of fraud, theft and abuse at the agency, none of it reported on or looked into by our 4th Estate.Among her findings are these little gems:
Eileen Therese Saxon of the Asheville, North Carolina Red Cross chapter charged with embezzling $165,000 – 9% of its $1.25 million dollar annual budget. (Source Ashville Citizen Times)
Karen Shuerger, former assistant director of accounting at the Orange County, California Chapter of the Red Cross has been sentenced to six months in Federal prison, ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $110,000 and when she is released, she will also serve 3 years of supervised release and six months of home detention. (Source: NY Times)
Red Cross Director Jonathon A. Jarrell of Virginia indicted on one count of embezzlement. Jarrell allegedly embezzled about $16,452 from the chapter between November 2004 and July 2006.
Joseph Lecowitch, CEO of the Hudson County Chapter in New Jersey, and his bookkeeper Catalina Escoto. Escoto gave herself $75,000 in bonuses. According to prosecutors, these two stole well over $1 million Red Cross donor dollars squandering it on gambling and each other. (Source: NY Times).
The list goes on and on, and includes reports by Red Cross volunteers of bags of money that simply disappeared, with no accounting of where the money went, or even of how much was stolen.
Every single charity watchdog group online has been calling for Congress to step in and clean up this mess by firing the entire Board of Directors, and imposing some sort of oversight on the agency, but to date, no one is willing to step forward and do anything about it.
With all of the cronyism, theft of donations, hirings of family members into positions that are essentially no show jobs, and the appointments of non experienced personnel, we can see once more just what this administration thinks about helping the poor, or victims of disasters. They have turned a once prestigious, caring organization, that could always be counted on to do good works, into their personal piggy banks, and the worst charity in America.