SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed a lawsuit against Move America Forward, a nonprofit that sends care packages to combat troops. The lawsuit alleges that Move America Forward’s marketing practices misled donors about the nonprofit’s affiliations and charitable outreach. Further, the lawsuit alleges that the charity used pictures and quotes of veterans without permission in order to seek donations. The lawsuit also claims Move America Forward violated Internal Revenue Service rules by supporting a political action committee and using charitable donations to support at least two political campaigns.
“Our troops and their commitment to our country should never be used for deceitful gimmicks,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Preying on donors’ support for military service members and veterans with deceptive marketing not only hurts generous donors, but also hurts military families. These actions taint the good work done by the many honest charities in California that support our troops and veterans. Our troops deserve respect and Californians deserve transparency. My office is committed to holding fraudulent charities accountable.”
In the lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra argues that charity directors Salvatore Russo and Shawn Callahan operated separate for-profit entities that charged fees for services provided to Move America Forward and did not comply with California’s Corporations Code guidelines for self-dealing transactions. Russo’s companies were paid an estimated $1,818,000 as a result of these transactions. The complaint further alleges that the nonprofit also invaded the privacy of injured veterans by using their names and stories to solicit donations without their permission. Move America Forward also plagiarized images, quotes, and information from other organizations to mislead donors and falsely inflate its effectiveness in executing its mission. Additionally, Move America Forward improperly shared its resources by providing free office space for the political action committees Move America Forward PAC and the Tea Party Express. The charity also used its charitable assets to support two political campaigns endorsed by those political action committees. Under United States Treasury rules, charities are prohibited from candidate electioneering, and their lobbying capabilities are strictly limited.
The lawsuit seeks the removal of defendants Russo and Callahan as directors of Move America Forward for abusing their authority. It also seeks to ban the defendants from operating charities and from soliciting charitable donations in California. The Attorney General’s Office will pursue further penalties.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.