By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
Difficult, but not impossible.
National Relief Charities' Form 990s and other public filings are replete with damning data. In its 1995 filing, the charity told the IRS that it paid its attorneys almost twice as much--$171,866--as the $96,390 it granted to the needy and those who serve the needy.
National Relief Charities' fund-raising expenses accounted for two thirds of its 1995 budget, far more than the 25 percent recommended by NCIB guidelines. The charity also said it spent 16 percent on "program services," a figure that appears exaggerated.
Brian Brown claimed in his charity's 1995 tax filings to have a salary of $96,000, though a former top lieutenant says Brown told him he pocketed $300,000 last year.
That month, Brian Brown abruptly dismantled his telemarketing operation in Rapid City, South Dakota, after public protests and a spate of critical news stories.
He registered with the Arizona secretary of state in June 1995 under a new name, National Relief Charities (American Indian Relief Council now is a subsidiary), set up shop in Phoenix and hired veteran telemarketer Tom Hennessey as his general manager.
"I thought, 'Great, I've got a job where I can make a decent living and feel good about helping people for once,'" says Hennessey, a Phoenix resident fired by Brown last May. It took several months, Hennessey adds, before he became convinced Brown was a scam artist.
Brown, a certified public accountant who now resides in Beaverton, Oregon, did not respond to phone calls and two faxed letters seeking comment. In court documents, however, he has denied any wrongdoing.
For now, most Phoenix residents need not worry about National Relief Charities and its noble-sounding subsidiaries--the American Indian Relief Council, the Council of Indian Nations and the newest additions to the fold, the Organ Transplant Support Network and the Children's Critical Care Alliance.
Like many other unsavory telemarketing operations, National Relief Charities avoids shaking down residents of the state from which it operates.
"A classic approach to keep the spotlight off yourself," says Denise Valenzuela, an assistant state attorney general and a member of Arizona's multiagency Telemarketing Fraud Task Force.
So far, the out-of-sight approach has worked. Karon Krause, who tracks charities for the Phoenix office of the Better Business Bureau, says her agency has received no local complaints about National Relief Charities or its related operations.
"That's not surprising, because they keep such a low profile here," Krause says. "But we've put an alert out about National Relief Charities because of information we've gotten from around the country. They have quite the bad track record."
The State of New York cited that track record in a still-unresolved 1993 lawsuit. It called Brian Brown's charity "a fraudulent fund-raising machine designed to generate millions of dollars for their directors."
"If we get continuing calls of complaint about a given operation," he says, "then we may feel the telemarketing room is attempting to mislead the public. That's when we step in. But I don't have anything to say about [National Relief Charities] at this time."
We'd like to provide some food to these small children and elderly who are going without, and I was wondering if we could possibly send you a gift-reply envelope for a small tax-deductible pledge to help feed these children that are going without food.
--a National Relief Charities telemarketer, in a successful call to a Brooklyn, New York, woman
The 1988 feature story in the Washington Post was warm and fuzzy. It told of a woman named Bernice Myers who operated a small Sioux craft shop in the unlikely outpost of Warrenton, Virginia--an hour from Washington, D.C.
Myers spoke movingly of how she'd travel regularly to South Dakota's reservations and buy handcrafted items from impoverished Indians for resale at her little shop.
"If she could tap the talent, she thought, maybe she could alleviate some of the need," the Post reported. "'There are no jobs, no money, there's nothing,' Myers said, still incredulous."
Myers' husband, Dave, chimed in.
"The idea is to create jobs. You have these fine artists, and they have no marketing outlet," said Dave Myers, described in the piece as a man who worked in data processing for years before founding the Famine Relief Fund in 1985.
The Post failed to report that a year earlier, Dave Myers had agreed to stop soliciting charitable contributions in West Virginia. Authorities there had alleged that less than 9 percent of Famine Relief's contributions had gone toward programs described in its fund-raising letters.
But West Virginia is just one of 50 states. Myers continued to pitch nationally in the late 1980s and early 1990s, using Famine Relief and its successor charity, the American Indian Relief Council, as his lucrative vehicle.
In 1991 and 1992, he mailed fliers that told of Indian mothers "pleading for milk for their babies or diapers or any hope we can share," and of scores of homeless Indians roaming around Rapid City.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city