LITTLE ROCK — The state attorney general’s office sued a New Jersey not-for-profit organization and its Conway fundraising partner Thursday, alleging they pocketed most of the donated money they misled Arkansans into believing would benefit Arkansas’ emergency responders.
The consumer-protection lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, alleges the National Police Defense Foundation contributed to charitable purposes just $500 of the $231,004 it raised in the state. It says the bulk of the money went to USA Publishing Group Inc. of Conway, which was retained by the foundation to solicit donations from Arkansas consumers.
The National Police Defense Foundation, USA Publishing and USA Publishing owners William Parker and Kathleen Parker are defendants in the suit.
“Arkansas consumers who believed they were donating their hard-earned dollars to help police, firefighters and emergency responders were instead duped into filling the coffers of a telemarketing company,” Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in a statement announcing the suit. “Consumers deserve to get that money back. Schemes like this have no place in Arkansas.”
A call to a Conway telephone number listed in an online directory as USA Publishing went to an electric company, and a USA Publishing phone number in North Little Rock was not in service. Directory assistance had no listing for William or Kathleen Parker.
A New York legal firm representing the National Police Defense Foundation referred questions to the foundation. Its director, Joseph Occhipinti, did not immediately return a call to NPDF headquarters in Morganville, N.J., seeking comment.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order the defendants to stop making misleading claims and seeks restitution, civil penalties, attorney’s fees and costs.
McDaniel alleges the defendants violated the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act by intentionally making false, untrue or misleading statements to prospective donors. According to the complaint, the telemarketers often misrepresented themselves as police officers, firefighters or first responders.
NPDF operated in Arkansas under assumed names such as Arkansas Police Defense Foundation, Deputy Sheriffs and Peace Officers Foundation and Firefighters and EMS Foundation.
The complaint alleges that the defendants intentionally gave the false impression that the charity was based in Arkansas and asked that money be sent to an in-state office that purportedly housed the Arkansas Police Defense Foundation. However, the address was that of USA Publishing, the paid solicitor, it said.
McDaniel alleges that of the $231,004 collected in Arkansas, $171,193 was paid to the professional fundraisers. Nationwide for the 2012 fiscal year, 75.9 percent of all donations to the organization went toward professional fundraising fees.
In a joint investigative report, the Center for Investigative Reporting and Tampa Bay Times identified the National Police Defense Foundation as one of the nation’s top 50 worst charities.