Sketchy Nonprofit, Purportedly Raising Money for Burn Victims, Targets Arizonans

The two biggest firefighting organizations in the state are alerting the public that a sketchy nonprofit is targeting Arizonans with a telemarketing campaign that claims to raise money for burn victims.

“Beware of scammer telephone solicitors who claim they’re affiliated with firefighters groups,” warn the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona and the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association.

According to these two groups, the California-based Association for Firefighters and Paramedics has “no official affiliation with any Arizona firefighters' organizations,” and worse, “[has] been named among the worst charities in America by a number of media outlets and charity tracking organizations.”

The study by the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Tampa Bay Times found that in 2011 solicitors from the organization raised $24 million but only spent 3.1 percent, or $745,270, of the money on direct cash aid to victims.

The rest, about $21.4 million, was spent on salaries, company overhead, and lavish vacations for its board members.

In 2009, former California Attorney General Jerry Brown investigated the AFP and, according to the Tampa Bay Times, “accused its operators of diverting $33,000 in donations to pay for out-of-town board meetings and a Caribbean cruise for the three board members and their families before a meeting in Florida.”

Michael Gamboa, CEO and board director of the group, denied any wrongdoing but settled the case out of court for $100,000.

California’s not alone in going after this group. State leaders in Florida, Maine, and Pennsylvania also have taken action or launched investigations.

“These scammers have no shame,” Bryan Jeffries, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, says in a statement. “They even called my parents claiming to be affiliated with the fire fighters, saying they raise money for child burn victims.

“Let me be very clear – they have no affiliation with us and no one should give them a dime.”

Charity Navigator, which monitors and rates groups across the country, gave the AFP an overall score of zero stars in 2013 – which is essentially the equivalent of saying, “Don’t donate to this group.”

“If you’re getting a phone call from someone asking you for money on behalf of the firefighters, please don’t give them anything,” cautions United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association President Steve Beuerlein.

“Everyone needs to know what a sham this is. These scammers need to be stopped cold.”

Consider yourself warned, Arizona.

Check out some more sketchy details about the group's financial history:

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser