The Veterans Support Organization (VSO) faces $50,000 in civil penalties following an investigation by the Department of State's Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming.
The investigation found that VSO violated the state’s charitable solicitations law 10 times while engaging in fundraising efforts for its Tennessee chapter, with each offense carrying a penalty of $5,000.
VSO claimed in some of its written material that its Tennessee chapter provides a wide range of services to veterans – including housing, job search assistance, bus passes, holiday meals and access to health care and addition recovery programs. However, the investigation concluded that the Tennessee chapter was not actually offering any of those services in Tennessee.
Also, VSO did not register its Tennessee chapter with the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming, as state law requires. Information about charities registered to operate in Tennessee is available at: http://www.state.tn.us/sos/charity/
“It is unfortunate that this organization has tried to take advantage of the great respect Tennesseans have for our nation’s veterans,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “People want to give money to organizations that provide help to veterans. And there are many legitimate organizations that need donations. However, this case illustrates why it is important for people to educate themselves about charities before agreeing to make contributions.”
Todd Kelley, director of the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming, estimated that VSO has raised “tens of thousands of dollars” while operating illegally in Tennessee. He notified John Nakowicz, the organization’s Rhode Island-based chief financial officer, of the civil penalties by letter.
“When people donate money to charitable organizations that don’t deliver on their promises, it makes donors less likely to contribute to other organizations that spend the money they receive on legitimate programs and services,” Kelley said. “Before making a charitable contribution, I encourage people to ask questions and do research on the organization asking for money. I also encourage people to visit our web site to learn more about charities that are properly registered to operate in Tennessee.”
Anyone who suspects a charitable organization of engaging in fraudulent or misleading activities is encouraged to contact the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming at (615) 741-2555 or local law enforcement officials.