ST. LOUIS • A Missouri charity set up to help disabled law enforcement officers and provide officer training has agreed to close down after a lawsuit filed Wednesday claimed it was a “sham” that spends nearly all of its money on fundraising and compensating its sole employee.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis by the Federal Trade Commission and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, says that in 2015, 95 percent of donations to the Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation Inc. went either to fundraising or to Executive Director David Kenik.
The charity collected more than $9.9 million through “false and misleading” telemarketing and direct mail appeals from 2013 through 2017, claiming the money would provide for families of slain officers or officers injured on duty, the suit says. The charity also said that donors’ money would be used to buy special equipment and training for police.
From 2013 through 2016, however, the charity spent $62,500 on grants to 27 disabled officers, or less than a penny of each dollar donated, the suit says, and divided a total of $60,000 among 25 families of slain officers.
“Defendants lied to tens of thousands of donors about the good their charitable contributions would accomplish and prevented millions of dollars from helping law enforcement and their families,” the suit says.
Without admitting any of those claims, Kenik and the charity agreed to permanently stop their fundraising activities in a settlement also filed Wednesday. Kenik agreed to a ban on starting or managing a charity or nonprofit and receiving any compensation from either. He can still volunteer, the settlement says.
Kenik and the charity also agreed to a $9.9 million money judgment. The bulk will be suspended and he and the charity agreed to pay $100,000 that will go to a charity or charities with similar missions. The rest will come due if Kenik or the charity violates the agreement, the settlement says.
In an email, Kenik wrote, “The FTC lawsuit is completely without merit, but we are too small to fight the unlimited funding of the government.”
He said that charity’s primary mission is providing “FREE enhanced training to help save officer lives,” much of which is not available elsewhere, and said his group had “delivered over 100,000 FREE training programs to … officers around the country.”
“Small charities like DPSF are too small to get corporate donations and need to rely on professional fundraising. Since it takes approx. 400 calls to bring in $20, fundraising is expensive, but we believe officer lives are worth the cost,” he wrote.
The lawsuit says the charity’s training program largely consists of videos the former reserve police officer, who is “not a law enforcement expert,” films on topics he selects and posts to a third party website and links to from his website. The charity “makes no effort to advertise the availability of its videos,” the suit says, other than one unsolicited fax in 2016 to some police agencies.
The suit says the charity and Kenik violated the Federal Trade Commission Act, telemarketing rules and the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
The charity, which also does business as the American Police and Sheriffs Association and Police Officers Safety Association, is run out of Kenik’s home in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., the suit says.
It received zero stars from the Charity Navigator, which ranks charities. Charity Watch says top-rated and “highly efficient” charities spend at least 75 percent of revenue on the programs that they support.
The charity’s 2016 tax forms show Kenik was paid $60,000 and $2.8 million went to three telemarketing firms out of a total of $3.1 million in revenue.
The largest recipient, Outreach Calling, has been criticized for fundraising in the past.