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FTC And States File Suit Against 4 Sham Cancer Charities


There's a major crackdown against, of all things, cancer charities. The Federal Trade Commission and all 50 states have filed a complaint against four groups. Authorities say the groups are scams that allegedly duped well-intentioned donors of $187 million. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: The charity's names sound legitimate - The Cancer Fund of America, Children's Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services and The Breast Cancer Society. And their fundraising appeals made in letters and phone calls were direct; donations would be used to help cancer patients with pain medication, transportation to chemotherapy and hospice care. But Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett says it was all a lie.


TRE HARGETT: At every turn, they chose to help themselves over the people they claim to be helping.

FESSLER: He says instead, almost all the money went to those running the charities, their family members and friends.


HARGETT: Sometimes, they would use it to fund lavish cruises, jet ski outings, concert ticket, dating member websites as well as trips to Disney World.

FESSLER: Authorities say the groups also pay professional fundraisers 85 percent or more of every donation received. The four charities have been under scrutiny for years. But Jessica Rich, of the Federal Trade Commission, says previous efforts to get them to clean up their acts had failed.


JESSICA RICH: These defendants were not deterred. And therefore, one of the reasons we need to act today in a united front is to bring stronger and more powerful relief against these defendants to stop these practices.

FESSLER: The government says two of the groups, The Breast Cancer Society and Children's Cancer Fund of America, have agreed to settle the charges against them. The charities will be shut down and their executives banned from charity work. But no settlement has been reached with the other two groups and their president, James Reynolds Sr. Efforts to reach the groups were unsuccessful. But Reynolds' son, James II, who runs The Breast Cancer Society, did post a statement thanking supporters and saying that the government has not proven its allegations. While this is one of the largest fraud cases ever brought against charities, it would not be the only example of shady fundraising. Art Taylor, head of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, says donors have to be vigilant when someone asks them for money.

ART TAYLOR: And if it doesn't make sense or if they're pressuring you to make an immediate gift, stay away.

FESSLER: Taylor says there are plenty of well-known, legitimate charities to choose from, especially when it comes to helping those with cancer. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler
Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.