Attorney General Chiesa and the Division of Consumer Affairs Obtain
Temporary Restraints to Protect Donations Made to Hurricane Sandy "Charity"
NEWARK – The operators of a purported charity who claimed donations will aid victims of Hurricane Sandy have been temporarily barred from soliciting additional donations, and must preserve the money and items donated to date, following the Court's acceptance today of temporary restraints and other interim relief requested by the State and agreed to by the defendants.
Defendants Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation ("HSRF") and its operators, John Sandberg and Christina Terraccino, also agreed to place the approximately $631,000.00 donated to date and any donations that come in after this point into an interest-bearing attorneys' escrow account. Sandberg, 30, and Terraccino, 27, both residents of Sparta, also must deposit $13,596.53 into the escrow account. The State in its lawsuit filed on February 21, 2013, alleged that they had transferred $13,596.53 of HSRF donations into their personal accounts.
"The temporary restraints we sought, and the Court approved, will ensure the donations made to date are preserved and maintained until a final resolution of the State's Complaint. This is an important step toward ensuring that these donations go toward aiding Sandy victims as this organization represented to donors," Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said.
In addition to monetary donations, the State requested and achieved the preservation of the remainder of the approximately $400,000 in donated items now stored in a warehouse as well as unused gift cards. The Court ordered these items be donated to a registered charitable organization.
The defendants also must post notices on the HSRF websites and Facebook and Twitter accounts stating that the Foundation is not a tax-exempt organization as defined by the IRS and that it has filed an application to obtain such status. The Court's Order also requires the defendants to remove the website page titled "Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund" and to post notice that the Foundation is not affiliated with the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. The defendants also must preserve all records and provide the Division with the names and contact information of all donors.
"I urge everyone who wants to help those suffering from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy to use the resources of this Division to perform their due diligence before making a donation," said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. "Along with information, we have investigators ready to act on consumer complaints about suspicious 'charities' and requests for donations."
Chief Investigator Laurie Goodman, of the Division of Consumer Affairs' Office of Consumer Protection, conducted this investigation. Deputy Attorney General Lorraine K. Rak, Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, and Deputy Attorney General Kourtney J. A. Knop represent the State in this action.
The Division of Consumer Affairs, through its "Investigate Before You Donate" campaign, encourages New Jersey consumers to learn as much as possible about any charity before deciding to make a donation.
- Find out whether the charity is registered in New Jersey, or is exempt from having to register. (Certain religious and educational organizations, and charities whose annual income includes less than $10,000 in public contributions and fundraising, are exempt from having to register with the State.)
- Find out how much the charity spent during recent fiscal years on program costs, management costs, and fundraising.
- Learn about the charity's stated mission.
Consumers may obtain information about a charity in several ways. They can ask the charity itself (reputable charities encourage you to do so), or visit the charity's website.
Consumers can also obtain this information from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Visit the Division's Charities Registration page; call the Division's Charities Hotline at 973-504-6215 during regular business hours; or use the Division's free "New Jersey Charity Search" smartphone app.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
Follow the Division of Consumer Affairs on Facebook, and check our online calendar of upcoming Consumer Outreach events.