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From New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo: Suing to Shut Down Fake Breast Cancer Charity

(Editor’s Note: The Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition has advised the Great Neck Record that Coalition for Breast Cancer Cures “as absolutely no connection with the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition (GNBCC).” GNBCC, which has never and will never telephone for donations, has served the Great Neck Community since 1992. Among its popular programs are the Lend A Helping Hand and Student Scientist Summer Scholarship programs. With its focus on the prevention of cancer, GNBCC is an all volunteer organization staffed by Great Neck residents who donate their time. On April 23 GNBCC’s president, Laura Weinberg, will receive a 2010 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Quality Award, the EPA’s highest honor awarded to the public sector. For more information about the Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition’s programs, visit: www.greatneckbcc.org.)

New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that he is suing to shut down a sham charity operation that claimed to raise money for breast cancer. A temporary restraining order has been issued by Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Bucaria against Long Island based Coalition for Breast Cancer Cures, Inc (“CBCC”) stopping it from soliciting donations, collecting money, or destroying documents. The court order also freezes all assets.

According to the attorney general’s office, the operation is run by David and Mindy Winston of Great Neck and other members of the Winston family. Cuomo’s office reports that the lawsuit alleges that in the past two years the Winstons duped New Yorkers out of over $500,000 by falsely claiming donations would support the fight against breast cancer. Instead, Cuomo reports, funds have been spent on luxury shopping, travel, restaurants, and other personal living expenses.  

The attorney general says that the lawsuit alleges that the Winstons falsely claimed they were a charity, mailed phony invoices to trick potential donors, and repeatedly charged donors’ credit cards without authorization.  The lawsuit, says Cuomo, charges the Winstons, their for-profit fundraising firm - The Resource Hub, Inc., d/b/a The Resource Center (“Resource Center”) -  and CBCC with engaging in a scheme to defraud as well as violating New York State’s not-for-profit and charitable solicitation laws.  

“The Winstons are exploiting the good intentions of New Yorkers who want to help in the fight against breast cancer,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “This money could have helped countless individuals if the donations had actually gone to legitimate charities. New Yorkers are very generous and we want to make sure they have confidence in the charities they support.”

The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that the donations collected by CBCC or Resource Center are not used for breast cancer or for any other charitable cause, but are instead used for the Winstons’ personal expenses. According to Cuomo’s office, the investigation uncovered expenditures of charitable funds for: over $3,700 in personal hotel and airfare expenses; over $5,000 at restaurants including Peter Luger Steakhouse, Caesars Palace Mesa Grill, and Gotham Bar and Grill; over $7,700 in retail purchases at stores such as Louis Vuitton, Victoria’s Secret, Home Depot, Best Buy, Costco, CVS, Loehmann’s, and Target; over $8,000 for sorority dues and other university expenses and fees; over $1,300 for a spring break travel package; and thousands of dollars on groceries, Netflix, and cable television.

Cuomo’s office says that the lawsuit alleges that the Winstons used a combination of telephone calls and letter mailings to solicit donations by check, credit card, and debit card. Further, Cuomo’s office says that the Winstons also mailed phony pledge invoices and reminder notices to trick people into thinking they had made pledges, and as a part of the scheme, the Winstons used donors’ credit card information to make multiple unauthorized charges following an initial donation, even after complaints and demands that charges be reversed. Some donors reportedly suffered over $1,000 in unauthorized charges.  

According to the Attorney General’s lawsuit, the Winstons made concerted efforts to create the impression that the organization was a legitimate charity with proper governance. And the lawsuit says that they falsely claimed that CBCC was recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization and included a fake “Non-Profit Tax-ID Number” on all correspondence with donors. Neither the Winstons nor their cohorts are authorized to solicit charitable contributions in New York, according to Cuomo’s office. CBCC is not registered with the Attorney General as a charitable organization and the Resource Center is not registered with the Attorney General as a professional fundraiser, as required by law.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks to shut down CBCC and permanently bar the individual defendants from soliciting charitable contributions. In addition, the lawsuit seeks to hold the defendants financially accountable for their waste and misappropriation of CBCC’s charitable funds, and to require them to pay restitution and damages.

The lawsuit was filed in New York Supreme Court, Nassau County.

This case is part of Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing initiative to fight charitable fundraising scams and to safeguard donors. Recently, Cuomo sued to shut down four professional fundraising companies for fraudulent and deceptive practices. In December, the Attorney General secured an injunction against the United Homeless Organization for deceiving donors. Last November, the Attorney General released his annual “Pennies for Charity” report, which shows the percentage of donations collected by charities that go to professional fundraisers as opposed to charitable purposes.  

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Michele Abeles, Patricia Northrop, and Barbara Quint, under the supervision of Charities Bureau Chief Jason Lilien and Senior Trial Counsel Kathryn Diaz.

Donors who suspect they have been a victim of charitable solicitation fraud should contact the Attorney General’s office at www.charitiesnys.com or by calling (212) 416-8402.

The attorney general’s office advised that before making donations, New Yorkers are encouraged to visit www.charitiesnys.com for tips on giving.