Child Abuse Organization Stirs Dispute : Fund-Raising Methods of CAPS Questioned

Times Staff Writer

Eileen Fagan's ears perked up when she heard the woman on the phone talk about raising money to help abused children. The woman, a well-spoken telephone solicitor, "just came out" and asked for a contribution of $35, said Fagan, who heads the child abuse team at UC San Diego Medical Center.

But something about the solicitor's pitch did not seem right, Fagan recalled. When the woman, who was calling from the Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS), said her group was raising funds to help the Sheriff's Department's child abuse unit in North County, Fagan's suspicions increased.

Fagan asked the solicitor to mail her more information about CAPS and called the sheriff's child abuse unit the next day. "I wasn't surprised when they told me that they had never heard of the group," Fagan said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Cottingham said that the department has one child abuse unit working out of Santee and that it has never received money from CAPS.

"We don't receive outside money. . . . We've gotten a lot of calls from people asking about this group. There are a lot of questions about them," Cottingham said. When sheriff's officials discussed the telephone solicitations with CAPS, the group offered deputies photography equipment to assist in child abuse cases, Cottingham said.

"At the time, the lieutenant was talking about accepting (the equipment)," Cottingham said. "But then the San Diego Police Department told us to watch it because they (CAPS) were under investigation by their fraud unit."

G. Gerry Williams, CAPS's operations manager, denies that his paid solicitors were making false representations about raising money for the sheriff's child abuse unit. "That's not us. You've got us mixed up with someone else," he said.

Though CAPS has never been charged with criminal wrongdoing, Williams acknowledged that the organization has been investigated by the police, the city attorney's office and the district attorney's office. An investigator from the city attorney's office who requested anonymity said that law enforcement officials have expressed concern to Williams and his attorney about CAPS's questionable fund-raising tactics.

San Diego police declined to discuss their probe of CAPS, but Lt. William Taylor, head of the department's child abuse unit, said the department accepted a $1,900 videotaping system from the group last year to help police investigate abuse cases.

Williams said he received a thank you letter from Police Chief William Kolender. Several people who have been called by CAPS's telephone solicitors said the callers refer to Kolender's letter to show that CAPS is working with San Diego police to fight child abuse.

There are a number of other claims by CAPS involving associations with local institutions and nonprofit groups that have resulted in criticisms of the group's fund-raising tactics. In at least two instances, Williams has acknowledged using the name of a bank and two charitable groups without their permission.

In addition to law enforcement officials, Williams' critics include several members of the San Diego Community Child Abuse Coordinating Council. Gerry Beattie, head of the Center for Child Protection at Children's Hospital, said most council members believe it is no accident that CAPS's name is similar to the more established Child Abuse Prevention Foundation.

'Cloak and Dagger'

"People who support the foundation get the two groups mixed up. They give to CAPS thinking that they're supporting the foundation," Beattie said.

Williams denied that he deliberately picked a name similar to the foundation's. Child abuse prevention is in the "public domain . . . it makes a statement," he said. He calls criticism of his group's activities "assassination by cloak and dagger."

In a telephone interview, he said that in 1986 he raised about $388,000 in 9 months and gave $28,000, or 7%, to charitable organizations. About $288,000 went to "payroll," Williams said, and of this amount, $120,000 was paid to his management company, Associated Enterprises Inc. The rest of the money went to administrative and miscellaneous expenses, he said.

There are no laws that require fund-raising groups to give away a specific amount of the money they raise. However, guidelines published by the nationwide Better Business Bureau recommend that at least 50% of the money raised be spent on programs, while fund-raising costs be minimized to 35% and the remaining 15% be spent on administrative costs. Several sources in the fund-raising community said that it is difficult to quote an average ratio for program funds and overhead costs. Some reputable groups, they said, give away as little as 20% of their fund-raising income; others up to as much as 90%.

Williams attributed the low percentage spent on programs to high start-up costs. "We're mere toddlers," Williams said.

Over a period of a month, Williams gave a reporter four different figures about CAPS's fund-raising income for 1986 and 1987. He released the most recent 1986 figures early this month, 10 days before he was required to file a financial report with the state, after receiving a six-month extension in May.

Shawn Riley, a public relations official with a Kearny Mesa firm hired by Williams, released a list of 13 charitable organizations in the county that she said received funds from CAPS in 1986. However, Riley said that Williams "did not feel comfortable" releasing the amount of money given to each group.

Recently, officials at the county-financed Child Abuse Hot Line received a barrage of calls from people who said they had been called by CAPS solicitors, who claimed to be raising funds for the hot line.

"We've received calls periodically about this group over the past months," hot-line official Cindy Zook said recently. "We've received numerous inquiries . . . People are calling us to find out if they're legitimate. Well, we tell them to verify for themselves where their money is going. To our knowledge they (CAPS) have never approached us with a contribution."

CAPS's attorney, former U.S. Atty. James Lorenz, was asked by district attorney investigators about the reported hot-line calls, Williams said. As in the controversy involving the sheriff's child abuse unit, Williams denied that his callers were misrepresenting themselves to potential donors.

"I have a script (for the callers). There is absolutely nothing in that script that says anything about the hot line," Williams said. Lorenz, citing lawyer-client privilege, declined to discuss the incident.

According to records at the California Secretary of State's office, CAPS is an affiliate of the San Diego World Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit group incorporated on Oct. 16, 1984. CAPS was registered with the state Attorney General's Charitable Trusts Registry on April 17, 1986.

Executive Director Resigns

While Williams is listed as the group's operations manager, I. Michael Sexter is identified as the executive director. However, Sexter, who is licensed with the state as a marriage, family and child counselor, resigned from the group a few days after he was interviewed for this story. Sexter could not be reached for comment about his resignation, but Williams said he resigned for health reasons.

The Heritage Foundation's board of directors include two of Williams' friends plus his son, daughter and son-in-law. Deborah Maclean, Williams' daughter, is listed as the group's treasurer, while Scott Maclean, his son-in-law, holds the vice president's position. James Woertz, a La Mesa printer, is listed as the foundation's president, and the rest of the board includes Darron Williams, a plumber who is Williams' son, and Dwight Baits, a retired accountant.

James Kleckner, who was also on the board of directors, resigned after he was interviewed for this story. Kleckner, a psychotherapist, occasionally put on parenting workshops for CAPS and like the other board members did not draw a salary.

"I've been putting on workshops under other agency sponsorships for many years. They (CAPS) have simply come along and tagged on to me. They contacted me. I didn't contact them. I've been doing workshops and they've tagged along. It's apparent that I don't know as much about the group as I should," Kleckner said.

Williams, a friendly man who would admit only to being "over 50," was the principal fund-raiser for nine years for the San Diego chapter of the Assn. for Retarded Citizens, before quitting the group in 1981 after an administrative reorganization. While Williams denied any wrongdoing in the controversies revolving around the county hot line and the sheriff's child abuse unit, he acknowledged that CAPS has occasionally made "mistakes" in its fund-raising approaches.

Fund-Raising Letter Sent

When a reporter cited several examples of the organization's controversial fund-raising tactics, Williams conceded the following:

- In 1986, Williams sent out a fund-raising letter with a return address implying that contributions were being handled by the "Pledge Processing Unit, c/o San Diego Trust & Savings." Williams acknowledged that the bank was not involved in CAPS fund raising and that his organization used the bank's name without permission. San Diego Trust & Savings officials said the bank does not have a pledge processing unit, but declined to discuss the controversy.

- The same year, CAPS telephone solicitors told potential donors that they were raising funds to assist Casa de Amparo in Oceanside and Escondido Youth Encounter, two established North County agencies that work with abused children. Again, Williams failed to obtain the two agencies' permission to use their names, prompting angry letters from the groups' directors. Eventually, CAPS gave each organization $2,000.

- In September, a "celebrity" golf tournament was staged to raise funds to fight child abuse. The only "celebrity" to attend the Sept. 30 tournament, Williams confirmed, was a young man identified as the San Diego amateur golf champion. CAPS offered a $25,000 prize for anyone making a hole-in-one and a chance to play in a $100,000 "Tournament of Aces Invitational." Williams said he did not know how much CAPS had raised from the event.

In November, 1986, Williams, Sexter and attorney Lorenz met with investigators from the city attorney's fraud unit. Lorenz declined to discuss the meeting but said that his law firm's involvement with CAPS has been limited to drawing up the legal papers to incorporate the World Heritage Foundation as a nonprofit group.

"I'm not an expert in foundations, but I do know that as far as foundations are concerned . . . they have a right to hold money and grant lump sums. Now, I don't pretend to know that's what World Heritage is doing," Lorenz said. " . . . But Mr. Williams has voiced a strong concern of trying to give as much money as possible to different charities."

Questions Raised

A law enforcement official familiar with the 1986 meeting said the city attorney's office requested the meeting to "discuss the group's fund-raising activities."

"People had questions about the appropriateness of the solicitations . . . We reached an understanding with them (CAPS) as to what they're required to do in context with fund raising, licenses and disclosure information to the public," said the official, who did not want to be identified.

Williams said that CAPS officials have yet to file a required annual financial disclosure statement with the state. An official at the Charitable Trusts Registry in Sacramento said that in May CAPS requested and received a six-month extension to file its 1986 report, which was due that month.

According to Williams, CAPS has given about $35,000 to charitable organizations, or 7% of the estimated $500,000 it raised between April, 1986, and June, 1987. The 13 nonprofit groups listed by Williams as receiving money from him include the Performing Arts Theatre for the Handicapped in Carlsbad, the Bonita Equestrian Therapy for the Handicapped, the San Diego Police Department, and the Foster Parents Assn.

The rest of the money, about 93%, that was raised by the group has gone to operating expenditures and salaries, Williams said.

"We're very concerned about the amount of money that goes to overhead," Williams said.

In an earlier interview, he attempted to justify the group's high operating costs: " . . . In the early years, just like any business, a foundation, nonprofit, is just like a for-profit. It has start-up costs . . . . But as time goes on, certain fixed expenses stay fixed."

Four Mailing Addresses

The portly Williams wore scuffed work shoes, denim work pants, a stained guayabera shirt and a blue sweatband around his head during a recent interview inside CAPS' thrift store on El Cajon Boulevard. The organization operates another thrift store at its La Mesa office on Fletcher Parkway.

World Heritage and CAPS use at least four mailing addresses: two in San Diego, one in La Jolla and one in La Mesa. Each office has a different phone number, but all calls ring in the World Heritage office in La Mesa. In addition to CAPS, World Heritage also sponsors another fund-raising group called Sportsathon, which has held money-raising sporting events at local high schools.

Other groups in the San Diego Community Child Abuse Coordinating Council have given CAPS a chilly reception. The council consists of law enforcement officials and child abuse prevention professionals. CAPS paid a membership fee to join the group, but council official Ann Albrecht said that CAPS officials do not attend the organization's meetings.

Several people who were at an Aug. 21, 1986, council meeting that Sexter attended at Children's Hospital--the only one attended by CAPS officials--said that he was subjected to extensive questioning.

"I was surprised that he came in the first place. When he started to talk it was quite obvious he didn't know what he was talking about. He was very vague about what they were doing with the money they were raising," said Beattie, of the hospital's child abuse unit.

Sexter said he preferred that Williams speak for CAPS. However, in a brief telephone interview, Sexter said that he is a psychotherapist who frequently appears on radio and television talk shows as an expert on child abuse. Williams and Sexter said that CAPS' primary role is to establish parent education classes to prevent child abuse.

"I've developed some of these parent education programs. However, I don't teach them. I only help set them up," Sexter said. He said he was not paid for his work on the programs.

Williams said that one CAPS goal is to help other organizations establish puppet shows to teach children how to avoid being physically or sexually abused.

"One of the things on the drawing board is working with these organizations . . . going into these high schools and junior highs, even kindergarten, with the puppets. There's good organizations that do this. But they have little money," Williams said. "The people doing this either don't have the staff, they don't have the knowledge, or they don't have the time to go out."

Jeffrey Hale, special projects administrator for the San Diego Community Foundation, said that he refused a request by Sexter to include CAPS in the Community Foundation's directory of charitable groups. The Community Foundation handles endowment funds that are distributed to nonprofit organizations in the county.

Hale said that he was concerned by the relatively small grants made by CAPS, while it carried seven paid staff members on the payroll.

"I requested information on their giving practices, but he (Sexter) asked questions that normally grant makers would know," Hale said. "I was also concerned because they only listed nine grants in the range of $500 to $2,500, but they had seven paid staff members. I thought that was a huge imbalance."

Williams said he currently has six paid staff members, including himself, and six paid telephone solicitors who earn between $5 and $6 an hour plus a percentage of any pledges they collect. He declined to say how much he is getting paid by CAPS, but he "estimated" that he "nets about $8 an hour, working 12-hour days."

While CAPS officials estimated that 7% of the money they have raised goes to programs and the remainder to overhead, the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation (CAPF), by comparison, gave away more than 90% of the $423,000 it raised in 1986, said CAPF Executive Director Mimi Groom.

Like CAPS, CAPF is a nonprofit group founded to combat child abuse and was incorporated in 1981. The CAPF's honorary board of directors includes Dist. Atty. Ed Miller, San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender and San Diego County Sheriff John Duffy. It has a paid staff of three.

The organization's 14-member board of directors includes prominent San Diego businessmen Lawrence Cushman and Jack Goodall, Jr. and Deputy Dist. Atty. Mary C. Avery. The group's five-person advisory board includes Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Zumwalt.

Groom said CAPF's board of directors has expressed concern over the similarities in the names of the two groups. Even CAPF's regular contributors have been confused when receiving solicitations from CAPS' paid solicitors, Groom said.

"They want to know when we started soliciting money over the phone," Groom said. Office space for CAPF and some of its operating costs, including salaries, are financed through donations from corporate donors, said CAPF President Norma Hirsh, who does not receive a salary from the group.

Hirsh acknowledges that corporate donations greatly reduce CAPF's expenses. But corporate contributions also make it possible for the group to distribute more money efficiently to nonprofit groups, say the CAPF officials.

"We don't keep this money in a bank account," Hirsh said. "We grant it out as quickly as we can, as the need arises. We make grants virtually every month."

CAPS, said Williams, makes the majority of its grants at the end of the year. "We hope to someday get in a situation where we can give out money on a monthly basis. This is our ultimate goal," he said.

Williams met with the executive directors of Casa de Amparo and Escondido Youth Encounter when they complained that CAPS solicitors were illegally using their organizations' names to raise money. The heads of the two groups said that Williams promised them $8,000 apiece for the nonprofit organizations. However, Williams ended up giving them only $2,000 apiece.

Judith Haworth-Adams, executive director of Casa de Amparo, and Kitty Wasserman, executive director of Escondido Youth Encounter, repeatedly asked Williams for the rest of the money.

"I thought we were going to be able to give them a couple of thousand dollars every quarter," Williams said. "It wasn't a promise. It was more an intention. And there's nothing in writing that I know of (promising each group $8,000)."

But in a May 8, 1986, letter to Haworth-Adams, James Woertz, president of the San Diego World Foundation, promised that CAPS would give the Oceanside group $8,000 during the year. Wasserman said that she received a similar letter.

Fund Raising to Continue

"Our volunteer board of directors feel that financial support of $2,000 each quarter, for a total of $8,000, can be forwarded to your organization during 1986," said the letter sent to Haworth-Adams.

Haworth-Adams said that an unknowing CAPS solicitor called her husband at home trying to get him to donate to her group. "My husband asked me, 'Did you know this group is raising money for you?' Well, of course I didn't," she said.

Despite resistance from others who work in child abuse prevention, Williams said he will continue raising funds for the immediate future.

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