Thursday, July 19, 2018
AG Swanson Bans Deceptive "Help the Vets" Charity
Fifth Action in the Last Year to Protect Minnesotans Who Donate in Support of Veterans Taken in Connection with Nationwide Crackdown Operation Donate with Honor
Attorney General Lori Swanson today obtained a Consent Judgment permanently banning Help the Vets, Inc.—a Florida charity—and its president, Neil Paulson, from soliciting in Minnesota due to their misrepresentations that donations would be used to help disabled and wounded military veterans, when in fact, the donations primarily benefitted Paulson and the charity’s for-profit telemarketers. This action was taken in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general from five other states.
“Veterans serve our country with honor and distinction. Outfits that take advantage of donors seeking to help veterans have no place in Minnesota,” said Swanson. “Dubious veterans charities using deceptive solicitation practices are an increasing problem across the country and today’s action is another step in our ongoing efforts to combat this type of fraud.”
Help the Vets, Inc. (“HTV”) was founded by Paulson and operated out of his Orlando home. It solicited more than $370,000 in donations in Minnesota. HTV told potential donors that it would fund veterans’ medical care, operate a suicide prevention program for veterans, and offer assistance to veterans fighting cancer, among other things.
These representations were false and deceptive. The vast majority of HTV’s claimed “charitable” programming consisted of distributing chiropractic vouchers, which HTV received for free and that were good only at an Orlando chiropractic clinic, and hotel vouchers, which it also received for free and that were redeemable only at hotels located in Florida and Mexico. HTV could not substantiate that it helped a single veteran through either of these voucher programs.
Operation Donate With Honor
The action taken today is part of “Operation Donate With Honor,” a nationwide crackdown by state charities regulators and the federal government on fraudulent charities claiming to help veterans.
The proceeding against HTV is the fifth action Attorney General Swanson has brought in the last year in an effort to combat the problem of suspect veterans “charities” taking advantage of Minnesotans’ generosity. The four other proceedings are:
- In June 2018, Attorney General Swanson obtained a court order permanently barring Healing American Heroes (“HAH”) from operating in Minnesota. HAH falsely claimed to donors that “every cent” of donations would be used to distribute phone cards to veterans, but in reality it failed to distribute a single phone card in 2015 and spent only .17% of its revenue on phone cards for veterans in 2016.
- In May 2018, Attorney General Swanson secured a court judgment against the fundraiser Communications Specialists, Inc., for soliciting donations in Minnesota without being registered and against its courier, Patrick Sharpe, for allegedly misappropriating $34,000 in donations to Amvets Department of Minnesota. Under the judgment, both are banned from further operating in Minnesota and the $34,000 must be repaid.
- In January 2018, Attorney General Swanson obtained a court order prohibiting the charity VietNow National Headquarters, Inc. and its leaders from soliciting donations in Minnesota. VietNow falsely claimed donations would provide medical treatment to veterans suffering from PTSD, but it never funded any such programs.
- In July 2017, Attorney General Swanson obtained a court order barring Foundation for American Veterans, Inc. and its leaders from soliciting in Minnesota. FAV pressured Minnesota donors to contribute by falsely claiming that they had “pledged” to donate to FAV when in fact they had not.
People may report complaints about similar situations to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787. People may also download a Complaint Form from our website at www.ag.state.mn.us, and mailing the completed form to the Attorney General’s Office at: 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101-2131.