Miller says mail will be returned to Iowans who sent donations to "Hawkeye State Disabled Veterans Association."
DES MOINES-- U.S. Postal Inspectors and the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division have teamed up to impound hundreds of letters Iowans had sent to "Hawkeye State Disabled Veterans Association" -- and to return the mail to Iowans because officials considered solicitations for the donations to be deceptive.
"It appears that about 400 Iowans responded to telephone and mail solicitations by this outfit," said Attorney General Tom Miller. "When the mail is returned, we estimate the minimum amount of money going back to the Iowans will be over $8,000, since the minimum suggested donation is $19." The total could be much higher, since solicitors encouraged Iowans to give more than $19 if they could, Miller said.
Miller said several elements were deceptive or misleading in solicitations for Hawkeye State Disabled Veterans Association. "First, their telephone scripts thanked people for their past support, but the fund raising company admitted to us that they had never solicited in Iowa before for Disabled Veterans. That was clearly deceptive," Miller said.
"In addition, despite the name Hawkeye State, we don't believe any significant amount of money will go to Iowa veterans," Miller said, "and the name Disabled Veterans Association might confuse people who support the good work in Iowa of the Disabled American Veterans, or D.A.V."
Jon Schneider, Executive Officer of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, and President of the Iowa Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, told Miller's Office he had not heard of Hawkeye State Disabled Veterans Association.
Miller said the matter unfolded when the Postal Service was unable to deliver hundreds of reply envelopes addressed to Hawkeye State DV, Suite 221, 801 Grand Avenue, Des Moines. There is no such address at the 801 Grand building. Investigators learned that the mail should have been addressed to Box 221, Suite 350 at 801 Grand -- a mail "drop-box" location.
Meanwhile, Postal Inspection Service and Consumer Protection investigators were looking into the matter. The Attorney General's Office contacted the Civic Development Group, Inc., of Hopelawn, NJ, the professional fund raiser company responsible for the solicitations (CDG).
CDG informed the Attorney General's Office that solicitation calls were made into Iowa from West Virginia, Ohio, and Kansas. According to a telephone script provided by CDG, some solicitors told Iowans, "I'd like to thank you for last year's support that helped fund some important programs for the Disabled Veterans" -- but CDG also acknowledged that no solicitation for Disabled Veterans took place in Iowa before May 12, 1998.
Iowans who pledged a donation received a follow-up mailing with an envelope to send in their contributions -- resulting in the 400 envelopes impounded by the Postal Service now being returned to the Iowans.
Miller encouraged any other Iowans to contact the Consumer Protection at 515-281-5926 if they had questions or complaints about CDG, Hawkeye State Disabled Veterans Association, or any other charitable solicitation.
Although no formal legal action was taken in this matter, the Attorney General's Office advised CDG about returning the mail and that CDG must avoid deception in any future solicitations.
CDG also is soliciting in Iowa on behalf of Children's Charity Fund, Cancer Fund of America (also called Iowa Cancer Fund), and the Iowa Assn. of Chiefs of Police and Peace Officers.
CDG, of Hopelawn, NJ, was sued last year by the State of New Jersey, which alleged that the professional fund raiser made false claims that money was being raised for New Jersey State Police and local police and fire departments. The complaint also alleged that CDG attempted to collect money from donors who had rejected fund raising appeals. The New Jersey action is still pending.
In March, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced an enforcement action naming Civic Development Group involving FTC charges that CDG misrepresented to consumers nationwide that contributions they were soliciting on behalf of a non-profit organization called the American Deputy Sheriffs' Association would benefit law enforcement in their own communities. The settlement would prohibit misrepresentations to consumers concerning how and where their contributions would be used.
Miller encouraged Iowans to be cautious when they receive solicitations for contributions. "There are a lot of questionable charity schemes out there," he said. "Be sure you know where your money is going. Ask questions about when and how your donation will be used and what share of each dollar will actually go for the charitable purpose. Ask if the solicitor is a paid professional fund raiser. Ask for information in writing. It is safest to give to a local charity or a charity you know is reputable."