Attorney General Chris Koster is suing Alivio Foundation, Inc., based in Puerto Rico, and Steve Blood, of Georgia. They are accused of fraudulently soliciting donations through the internet to help victims of the May 22 Joplin tornado.
Volunteers for catholic charities are rebuilding, feeding and providing shelter for their neighbors in need. Koster says two different organizations are using the Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri and St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Churches names to raise money the charitable organizations never got. "All of the churches in this area are trying to make every penny count as we are going out and trying to positively affect the members of this community that are the most vulnerable,” St. Peter the Apostle Reverend J. Friedel said.
Koster said that soon after the tornado, Alivio began soliciting donations through a PayPal link on its website and through the online donation conduit, Crowdrise. Alivio claimed the donations would be used to assist survivors and relatives of Joplin tornado victims. Koster says they listed the St. Peter The Apostle Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri as the intended beneficiaries. Koster says Alivio posted pictures of the Joplin devastation and links to various news stories about the tornado on its website. “It's saddening and infuriating at the same time," Friedel said. “We are trying to combat not only trying to do good but also counter act the negative effects of someone running around and doing this."
Koster says neither the church nor Catholic Charities had ever heard of the Alivio Foundation, nor have any area churches received any funds from it. He said there is no record of the Alivio Foundation giving funds to any organization helping Joplin residents. The company’s page on Crowdrise’s website reported that it had raised $9,700 through Crowdrise. On Thursday, the total number of donations continued to rise.
The attorney general's office is suing another man from Georgia, Steven W. Blood II, investigators say he sold “Storm Aid” T-shirts and ran three websites collecting money that never reached Joplin tornado survivors. “Whenever we tell people there will be accountability, there will be a price to pay if you engage in this conduct we're saying that with a clear conscience that's exactly what's going to happen,” Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts said.
Koster said Steve Blood runs an internet radio business through three websites. Through these websites, Blood claims to help victims of the Joplin and Tuscaloosa tornados by selling t-shirts, setting up benefit concerts and offering concert sponsorships for sale, and providing an option to donate to Storm Relief efforts. Anyone wishing to buy a t-shirt, concert ticket or sponsorship, or make a donation, must use the PayPal link on the websites. Blood has collected nearly $5,000 from the account since the Joplin and Tuscaloosa tornados. None of the money has gone to help tornado victims, but rather, has been used for Blood’s personal expenses.
The catholic charities targeted are accepting and need donations but want them sent directly to their organizations. They are not fundraising online through outside sources. "We could use that money still for good because that was the intention of the donor," Friedel said.
Koster is asking the court to issue an injunction prohibiting both Alivio and Blood from further violations of the merchandising practices act and to require that all funds collected go to the intended recipients. In addition, he is asking the court to require each of the defendants to provide full restitution to donors; pay a civil penalty of $1,000 per violation of the law; pay a penalty to the state of 10 percent of the total restitution; and pay all court and investigative costs.
Websites Koster says are fraudulent: