Ashtabula charity 'Cops for Kids' accused of bilking more than $4.2 million from donors

An Ashtabula-based charity claiming to work “hand in hand” with law enforcement agencies across Ohio is being accused of bilking over $4.2 million from thousands of donors across Ohio.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Wednesday that his office has filed a lawsuit alleging that Ohio Cops for Kids and the telemarketing firm it relied on to generate donations “misled and deceived” Ohio donors.

The non-profit charity’s website claims its mission “is to improve the quality of life for the youth of our communities through educational and recreational activities, working hand in hand with law enforcement throughout the state”.

In addition, the lawsuit alleges the charity’s co-founders “personally profited from the deception alleged” in the lawsuit by earning $614,540 in salaries from 2010 through 2015.

The charity’s most recent 2015 tax returns identify the founders as 79-year-old Thomas Duffy, President, and 62-year-old Charles Hitzel, Treasurer, of Ohio Cops for Kids.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants operated a “sham charity” and engaged in fraud by convincing “generous Ohio residents” their contributions would be used locally to support programming that benefits children in their community.

Instead, the charity’s telemarketing firm, Telcom Enterprises of Ohio, is alleged to have kept 79 percent of all charitable donations amounting to $3,342,372 from 2005 through 2015 as well as negotiating a contract with the charity called for “no less than 80 percent of the charitable donations that it collected” as payment for its services.

Telcom Enterprises of Ohio is also listed on the Ohio Attorney General’s annual reports on soliciting firms as raising funds for five other charities that retained less than a third of funds raised for one charity and less than 16 percent for others.

According to the lawsuit, Ohio Cops for Kids spent only $73,840 on scholarships, donations or direct programming expenses — just 1.75 percent of all charitable donations during the same time period.

In addition to Duffy’s salary, “occupancy expenses” were allegedly paid by Ohio Cops for Kids for his personal residence that housed the charity.

When contacted about allegations, Duffy declined to comment saying only that he “has not been part of the charity for the last several years” but denied that very little money went to children adding that he "does remember that far back".

Duffydirected any questions about the charity’s performance to Hitzel, who also declined to comment.

The organization’s Facebook page displays a May 2017 letter from the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) thanking the charity for a donation totaling $500 that would be used to “provide one additional scholarship to be awarded to a child of an OACP active member to attend college.”

Telcom Enterprises of Ohio, which is also accused of violating a 1994 agreement with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office involving a prior lawsuit alleging fraud, has not responded to a request for comment.

This latest lawsuit seeks a court order for Telecom to withdraw from all solicitation in Ohio, dissolve the charity and award civil penalties of $10,000 for each violation.

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