Print

News & Culture >> Browse Articles >> Alerts and Scams

Rate

Copycat Charity Called Sneaky

Copycat Charity Called Sneaky

December 01, 2009

Sacramento County households have been receiving yellow postcards in the mail soliciting donations of clothes and other household items for charity. The cards closely resemble those previously used by a local nonprofit most people knew as SAR — or the Sacramento Association for the Retarded.

The cards, however, are careful near-duplicates meant to steer donations to a local thrift store struggling to stay open. They are the work of Andrew Minin, who a year ago tried to become a voting member of the nonprofit — along with a dozen of his friends — following a contractual dispute.

Now that the original nonprofit has closed its doors after more than 50 years of service and has filed for bankruptcy protection, longtime advocates fear people trying to help the developmentally disabled will inadvertently help a thrift store on Auburn Boulevard that has yet to donate anything to charitable causes.

“I think it’s beyond dishonest. It’s taking advantage of an unsuspecting public,” said Roger Chapman, a member of Sacramento County’s Developmental Disabilities Planning and Advisory Council. It also could hurt other organizations trying to make a difference, he said.

“I find this absolutely unconscionable behavior,” Chapman said.

Minin is soliciting donations from area residents for an organization he’s calling the Sacramento Association for Retarded Citizens — acronym SARc.

SAR changed its name in late 2008 to the more politically correct “Service Advocacy Respect for Persons with MR/DD,” but retained its acronym.

Until The Bee began asking questions, Minin’s Web site — thriftmart.org — claimed that donations benefit the original nonprofit. An “About SAR” tab steered visitors to a page with information copied and pasted from the original organization’s documents. The site even listed SAR’s address — or at least its address before it filed for bankruptcy protection last month — and the name of its former president.

Standing outside his Auburn Boulevard store, Minin called the information on the Web site an error. He said that a company that makes such Web sites must have put the information on the site thinking it was the same organization.

Earlier this week, the information was removed. The Web site no longer claims donations to the thrift store will benefit a nonprofit.

As for the mailing cards that look almost identical to ones from the original nonprofit, Minin is unapologetic. Around the time he incorporated his own nonprofit in December 2008, he said, he read Sam Walton’s book “Made in America.”

In the book, Walton — founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. - wrote about the benefit of emulating those with already successful ideas.

“I picked up this name because I was familiar with SAR,” Minin said. “Why not?”

None of the money from donations to Minin’s operation has gone to help people with developmental disabilities, he acknowledged. That’s because there isn’t any money, he said.

After paying for gas, his drivers and mailing the fliers, Minin said he barely has any money left. He showed The Bee a letter from the Internal Revenue Service showing that his thrift store owed more than $13,000 in back taxes as of Sept. 1.

“To get money to spend for retarded people, I need to produce money,” he said.

Minin’s relationship with the original nonprofit goes much deeper than the similar name and postcards.

The original nonprofit made much of its revenue by partnering with another thrift store to sell donated clothes and other items. Such a relationship, used by many charities, provides the stores a steady stream of goods and the nonprofits a steady stream of money.

But some SAR officials felt they weren’t making enough money from their relationship with longtime business partner, Norquist Salvage Corp., the company that operates Thrift Town stores. They wanted to negotiate a bigger cut.

In late 2007, Minin said he began to buy goods from SAR and, in late 2008, he negotiated a contract with the organization. When Norquist found out, company officials balked and claimed the nonprofit was in breach of contract for dealing with Minin, said Lane Steinmetz, Norquist’s co-president and chief financial officer.

The president of SAR at the time voided the agreement, claiming the employee who had signed it wasn’t authorized to do so.

Norquist ended its relationship with SAR after the Minin problems and after trying for several years to get more financial information from the nonprofit, Steinmetz said.

So in late 2008, Minin paid dues to become a member of SAR and got a dozen of his friends to apply to do the same, according to court records. The nonprofit’s president rejected the applications, records show.

In November 2008, Minin and another man went to court to compel SAR to accept their applications. Minin eventually lost his case when a judge found he didn’t “adequately state the purposes for which the requested information was needed.”

On Dec. 10, 2008, Minin incorporated SARc as a nonprofit corporation, according to the articles of incorporation. The organization’s purpose was “to preserve dignity, expand opportunities, and protect the rights of individuals with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities, and their families.”

Minin insists that he has done nothing wrong and that emulating the established nonprofit was a legal business decision. But now that the original nonprofit has filed for bankruptcy protection, he acknowledged that being mistaken for SAR might not be so beneficial.

“It’s like the same as me,” Minin said referring to the yellow postcards soliciting donations. “People don’t even pay attention.”

-——

Call The Bee’s Robert Lewis, (916) 321-1061.

-

To see more of The Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sacbee.com/.

Copyright © 2009, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

NYSE:WMT,

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.