Idaho alleges cancer charities bilked consumers

Two phony cancer charities can no longer solicit donations from Idahoans or anyone else in the U.S., according to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Idahoans made more than 5,100 donations totaling $134,000 to Children’s Cancer Fund of America and more than 16,000 donations totaling $322,000 to the Breast Cancer Society between 2008 and 2012, according to Wasden.

Wasden jointly filed a federal lawsuit Monday with 49 other states’ attorneys general, the District of Columbia and the Federal Trade Commission. The lawsuit accused the Children’s Cancer Fund of America Inc., The Breast Cancer Society of America, Cancer Fund of America Inc., Cancer Support Services Inc. and their operators of scamming more than $187 million from consumers.

The lawsuit alleges the organizations used telemarketing calls, direct mail, websites and other materials to portray themselves as legitimate charities supporting cancer patients through providing pain medication, transportation to chemotherapy and support for hospice care.

But the money actually was spent on “lucrative employment for family members and friends,” as well as cars, trips, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, jet-ski outings, sporting events, concert tickets and dating website memberships, the lawsuit said.

The charities “operated as personal fiefdoms characterized by rampant nepotism, flagrant conflicts of interest and excessive insider compensation, with none of the financial and governance controls that any bona fide charity would have adopted,” according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The organizations lied on financial documents to conceal their scams, Wasden said.

“Many Idahoans gave their hard-earned money to these sham charities in the hope of helping people with cancer,” Wasden said in a news release. “The reality is most of the money was used for the benefit of the individuals and their families for their own personal interest and not to help people with cancer.”

Litigation is pending against Cancer Fund of America Inc. and Cancer Support Services Inc. But the Children’s Cancer Fund and Breast Cancer Society and their operators have agreed to settle the claims. The proposed settlements require the organizations to dissolve and liquidate their assets, and certain people would be banned from fundraising and operating charities.

“I encourage you to do some research before you commit your hard-earned dollars,” Wasden said, suggesting consumers contact his consumer protection division with concerns or questions about charities.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The settlements are subject to court approval, the FTC said.