In 9/11 Charity Fraudsters Case, Lessons for Sandy Victims, Donors
Two north Jersey men must repay some $121,000 in donations and are banned from working with any charities in the state
The two operators of a bogus charity who claimed to be supporting the families of emergency responders who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11 have been ordered to disgorge $121,116 in donations, pay civil penalties and are permanently barred from working for any charitable organization in New Jersey, under terms of a judgement announced today.
State Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) in July 2011 filed suit against Mark Anthony Niemczyk, 66, of Tinton Falls, and Thomas J. Scalgione, 40, of Manahawkin, for defrauding donors by using the monies to enrich themselves instead of giving it to 9-11 victims’ families.
Under the Final Consent Judgment, both Niemczyk and Scalgione admitted to committing multiple violations of the State’s Charities Registration and Investigation Act, including operating an unregistered charity.
“This case illustrates how charlatans will use a tragic event, and the pretext of helping those in need, to profit themselves,” Attorney General Chiesa said in a prepared statement.
"We’re on alert for similar scams in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and consumers should perform due diligence before making donations if they are contacted and asked to aid storm victims,” he said.
The DCA maintains an online, searchable database of the approximately 26,000 charitable organizations that are registered to operate in New Jersey.
Attorney General Chiesa noted that the DCA to date has registered only one charity created specifically to aid individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy. That organization, Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, was created by First Lady Mary Pat Christie.
“We have zero tolerance for those who attempt to enrich themselves by using
emotional appeals following a tragedy or disaster to defraud consumers who want to help those in need,” Eric T. Kanefsky, acting director of the state Division of Consumer Affairs said in the statement.
“The division will seek swift and severe action against those who use the name of a just cause to enrich themselves.”
Niemczyk and Scalgione brought a custom-painted pickup truck to public events, where they sold T-shirts featuring the logos of the New York City police and fire departments and also took cash donations, under the guise of helping the families of fallen first responders.
In August, the court granted temporary restraints requested by the State, including the impoundment of the pickup truck. Niemczyk and Scalgione also were ordered to stop soliciting donations from the public.
Niemczyk is the owner of the pickup truck, while Scalgione functioned as its booking agent and publicized where the truck would be on display. The truck has since been repossessed by its financing company.
The donations and money raised through T-shirt sales were commingled in Niemczyk’s personal bank account, which he used for personal expenses and for upkeep and maintenance of the truck, according to the statement.
In addition to the disgorgement of $121,116, Niemczyk was assessed $98,993 in civil penalties and reimbursement of the State’s costs in bringing this case. Scalgione was assessed $73,993 in civil penalties and reimbursement of the State’s costs, and ordered to pay $1,000.
The assessments were suspended but will become immediately payable if either violates the terms of the Final Consent Judgment.
Editor's note: The attorney general and Division of Consumer Affairs offered the following advice for consumers seeking to make donations to help those affected by Sandy:
- Before donating to a charity, find out whether the organization is registered with the Division of Consumer Affairs, or is exempt from the registration requirement. (Certain religious and educational organizations, and charities that raise less than $10,000 annually in contributions, are exempt).
- Learn how, exactly, the charity plans to use your money.
- Learn how much the charity spent during recent fiscal years on program costs, management costs, and fundraising. Learn about the charity’s stated mission.
- Verify the information by calling the Division of Consumer Affairs Charities Registration Hotline at 973-504-6215, or go to the DCA Charities Registration page.
- Consumers can find this information with the free New Jersey Charity Search smartphone app from the DCA.
- Consumers who believe they may have been defrauded should file complaints with the DCA. A complaint form is available online, and complaints may be registered by calling the Division at 800-242-5846 (toll-free within NJ) or at 973-504-6200.