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Complaints About Fund Solicitors Spur Police Investigation

Times Staff Writer

Anaheim police are investigating a Houston-based organization that has set up an unlicensed office in Anaheim to solicit money for terminally ill children.

Phone solicitors working for the Rainbow Foundation Children’s Center are collecting about $30,000 a month, according to a foundation spokesman.

According to Anaheim city records, the Rainbow Foundation does not have a valid business license to operate in the city. The investigation was prompted by citizen complaints and complaints from the Orange County and Los Angeles chapters of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, according to Anaheim Police Detective Dwain Briggs.

Make-A-Wish Foundation officials said they are concerned because Rainbow Foundation phone solicitors are using Make-A-Wish’s slogans and taking credit for Make-A-Wish’s efforts to aid dying children.

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No Phone Calls

“They are sounding like they are us, but they are not us,” said Linda Kaplan, national director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, based in Phoenix, Ariz. Kaplan said the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants thousands of wishes, ranging from visits with celebrities to boat cruises and trips to Disneyland, does not use phone solicitors to raise money. Instead, it seeks individual contributions and holds fund-raising events such as golf and tennis tournaments.

Jim Harris, who represents the Rainbow Foundation in Anaheim, said in an interview Friday that his phone solicitors are free to use the “make a wish” slogan, but “we do not use Make-A-Wish Foundation” in sales pitches.

He said the Rainbow Foundation’s eight phone solicitors are selling $30 tickets for a variety show scheduled to be held in Glendale in December. The foundation sends couriers to pick up the checks from contributors, according to Harris. He said 25% of every contribution goes directly to the foundation in Houston, 25% is paid to the phone solicitors, and the rest of the money is spent granting children’s wishes and to pay for the office and telephone expenses. He said the Anaheim office opened in February.

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Mike Lewis, executive vice president of the national Make-A-Wish board and a Los Angeles chapter board member, said his group plans to file a civil court action to stop the Rainbow Foundation from using the “make a wish” slogan. Lewis said Friday he has received several calls from Make-A-Wish contributors concerned about the Rainbow Foundation sales pitch.

‘Never Heard Again’

Charleen Bero, office manager for Meadow Farms, a meat-packing company in Los Angeles, said a Rainbow Foundation phone solicitor called her for a contribution after Meadow Farms was listed as contributing hot dogs to a recent Make-A-Wish tennis tournament in Torrance. “I asked the man to submit a request on Make-A-Wish Foundation letterhead and I never heard back from him again,” said Bero Friday.

Last year, the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Orange County chapter raised $18,914 and granted about four wishes a month to terminally ill Orange County children. The Los Angeles chapter raised about $120,000 last year, according to Los Angeles chapter officials. In Orange County, about 80% of all money donated to the Orange County Make-A-Wish Foundation is used for granting children’s wishes, according to Jeff Roessler, a member of the county chapter’s executive board. Roessler said most of the children are referred by doctors or Childrens Hospital of Orange County.

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Lewis, of the Los Angeles chapter, said 94% of the funds collected by that chapter go to the children. According to Anaheim city business records, Harris has a license to operate Caltel Productions, listed as a sales promotion company. However, Harris said the company now imports and sells tiny, 2 1/2-inch-high trees from Alaska.

Thomas Brady, a spokesman for the Rainbow Foundation in Houston, said Harris raises funds under a contract with the foundation. He said the money is used to support the foundation’s children’s center which provides counseling services for terminally ill children and their parents and puppet shows. He said the Rainbow Foundation has granted three wishes to dying children, including a trip to Disneyland in April and a fishing trip to Florida in January. The group has also helped a girl in Thousand Oaks in Ventura County and is working with a girl in Hawthorne.


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