(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has agreed to a multistate settlement with an organization that claimed to help wounded veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but instead lined the pockets of the family behind the charity.
Healing Heroes, based in Florida, and its founders, Stacey and Allan Spiegel and their son Neal Spiegel, agreed to settle with 11 states where they solicited donations with bogus promises and misleading fundraisers.
“Ohioans always answer the call when our veterans need help and thought they were doing so here,” Yost said. “But this wasn’t a charity. It was disgraceful sham and we shut it down.”
Hero Giveaways, LLC, the business behind the charity formed by the Spiegel family became the subject of a multistate investigation into its use of deceptive charitable solicitations including misleading sweepstakes mailers and telemarketing campaigns.
The investigation by Yost’s Charitable Law Section revealed that Ohio donors contributed an estimated $525,544 between 2015-2017 as a result of deceptive sweepstakes mailers and telephone solicitations.
The organization promised to use donations to help wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan receive medical treatments that the Department of Veterans Affairs did not readily provide.
The charity also falsely claimed on social media in 2016 and 2017 to dedicate 100% of proceeds to wounded veterans. The investigation revealed that very little of the charitable contributions received by the Healing Heroes Network, Inc. were used to further that charitable mission.
Instead, donations were used to pay professional fundraisers, on-line advertising fees, the salaries of Stacey Spiegel and her son, Neal Spiegel, and to purchase t-shirts from another family member’s t-shirt business.
The settlement announced today requires Healing Heroes Network, Inc. and Hero Giveaways, LLC to permanently cease all charitable solicitations, and the Spiegel family has agreed to pay $95,000.00 in monetary damages.
The money will go to a veterans’ charity whose mission matches the representations made by Healing Heroes Network, Inc. when they were soliciting donations from the public.
The Spiegels are also subject to a five-year ban from overseeing, managing, or soliciting charitable contributions for any nonprofit organization.
Ohio, along with Florida, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, California, Virginia and Washington are part of the settlement agreement announced this week.
This legal action is part of Operation Donate With Honor, a nationwide consumer protection law enforcement program to combat veterans’ fundraising fraud through education and enforcement.
Operation Donate with Honor was coordinated in 2018 by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of State Charities Officials. The program targets fraudulent charities and groups that claimed to be helping veterans but instead enrich the charities’ founders and professional fundraisers.
When donating, please consider the following tips to help ensure your money goes to the charitable purpose you intend.
When you receive a request to donate money, ask questions.
- Ask for the charity’s name and web address.
- Where is its physical location, phone number, and types of programs run by the charity?
- How much of the donated money supports the programs you want to support?
- Avoid paying with cash, gift cards, or wire transfers. Payment by these methods is difficult to track and therefore, difficult to recover.
- Consider donating by using a credit card, which tends to be more secure and trackable.
- Restrict your giving to organizations that you have personal knowledge of the programs provided or to develop a giving plan that defines in advance what groups you want to support during the year
If the charity is unwilling to answer your questions, that is a red flag. Attorney General Yost also has a searchable database of registered charities in the state, as well as resources to file a complaint.