Fraudulent veterans phone card charity to shut down
ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans donated money to a Colorado-based charity for years to help soldiers call home, but Attorney General Lori Swanson says it was a fraud and the group is now being shut down.
In a court filing Thursday, Dec. 27, Swanson said the TREA Memorial Foundation, based in Colorado, lied when it said donations it solicited by mail were going toward phone cards for service members. The “assurance of discontinuance” filed in Ramsey County means the group will stop operating and dissolve itself, but not before it pays $425,000 to help soldiers and veterans.
“Charities that take advantage of the desire to give back to service members, veterans, and their families using deception have no place in Minnesota,” Swanson said in a statement. She noted Minnesota is home to 330,000 veterans.
According to Swanson’s court filing, TREA Memorial Foundation solicited donations by mail under the name “The Armed Forces Aid Campaign” between 2012 and 2017 with the help of fundraiser Jeremy Squire and Associates. It raised more than $345,000 from Minnesotans — with half the solicitations promising to help soldiers and veterans call their families.
The group promised donations would put phone cards in the hands of “America’s heroes.” And that donations would help “an injured hero call home.”
But the group never bought a phone card after 2014, according to Swanson. A fraction of 1 percent of the $9 million in donations the organization collected nationwide between 2014 and 2017 was spent on phone cards.
The court filing also says the foundation used “particular accounting practices” to make the charity look more efficient with its donations. Such actions violate Minnesota law that requires the truthful and accurate disclosure to donors.
The charity has about two months to spend $425,000, essentially its remaining assets, on charitable programming for soldiers, veterans and their families. After that, it must cease operation.
A civil penalty of $500,000 could be imposed if the organization violates the agreement with Swanson’s office.
Thomas Liebaert and Philip Hilinski agreed to the terms in the court filing on behalf of TREA Memorial Foundation Dec. 18. A judge OK’d the settlement Thursday.