the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Brick NJ, Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced a lawsuit against a charitable organization, the National Police Relief Association based in Brick, New Jersey, and several of its board members for allegedly misusing more than $200,000 in charitable donations that were raised primarily to benefit law enforcement officers and their families, and in particular families of officers killed or injured in the line of duty. Instead, the organization made direct payments to the board members and financed their personal expenses, including restaurant outings and vacations to Walt Disney World.
The Complaint, filed in Ocean County, alleges that these improper payments and benefits to board members were approximately fifteen times the total amount donated to fallen law enforcement officers or their families and more than double the amount directed to any charitable purpose at all.
Together with the Complaint, the Acting Attorney General and the Division filed an Order to Show Cause seeking immediate protective measures. The State has obtained a court order temporarily restraining Defendants from, among other things, engaging in further solicitation of charitable contributions, disposing of assets in the charitable account, or destroying financial records. The State sought these restraints in order to protect prospective donors immediately, ensure the availability of National Police Relief Association’s remaining assets, and preserve relevant evidence of the organization’s activities.
In addition to National Police Relief Association, the defendants include the organization’s Vice President, Frank John, and Secretary, Antoinette John, a married couple, as well as the estate of the former President, Michael Davis, who is now deceased. Both Frank John and Michael Davis previously worked at the New Jersey Department of Corrections, according to the Complaint.
“New Jersey’s police officers put their lives on the line for us,” said Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck. “It’s disgusting that people would raise money for fallen and injured law enforcement officers only to misuse it on themselves. We will hold accountable this so-called charity and the people associated with it.”
Of approximately $208,000 in charitable funds that were misused from 2014 to 2020, the State’s Complaint alleges that Davis and Antoinette John paid themselves approximately $185,000 in direct payments with no apparent connection to work performed for the charity, and failed to disclose it as income. Additionally, the Complaint alleges that National Police Relief Association spent nearly $25,000 on personal dining, automobile expenses and leisure travel for board members (including the three individual defendants) with no discernable link to its charitable purpose. This amount includes over $7,000 for a weeklong Walt Disney World trip for multiple board members and their adult family members.
As also alleged in the Complaint, National Police Relief Association reported nearly $2,500,000 in contributions for 2014 through 2019. Of that amount, it is alleged that more than $1,800,000 was remitted to paid fundraisers. Less than $14,000 was directed to the families of officers who had been killed in the line of duty from 2014 to 2020, according to the Complaint, though additional amounts were redirected to charities serving other purposes.
“Donors should have confidence that a charity will use their donations consistent with the charity’s purpose and mission,” said Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director of the Division. “We will continue to hold accountable those who ignore our laws and use charitable funds as their personal piggy bank.”
Among other relief, the complaint seeks the return of money unlawfully obtained from members of the public, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs, and an order enjoining the defendants’ unlawful practices. The State is also asking the court to dissolve National Police Relief Association, shut down its website and affiliated online accounts, and permanently bar Frank and Antoinette John from registering or operating any charity in New Jersey.
Deputy Attorney General Erica Salerno of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group is representing the State in the matter. Investigator Brian M. Penn of the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation.
Consumers can seek information about a charity from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Visit the Division’s Charities Registration page or use the Division’s free “New Jersey Charity Search” smartphone app.
Consumers are encouraged to report suspicious solicitations to their local police and to the Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or calling 1-800-242-5846 to receive a complaint form by mail.