Judge Orders Children’s Fund to Halt Charity Claims
A Superior Court judge Thursday ordered the Children’s Wish Fund of Carson, facing fraud and false advertising charges, to temporarily stop telling potential donors that its funds go mainly to grant the last wishes of dying children.
The order by Solano County Superior Court Judge Dwight Ely was a victory for state prosecutors, who are seeking to shut down the nonprofit charity through a civil suit charging the fund with fraud and false advertising.
The suit contends the organization has spent only 1% of the $3.1 million it collected from 1986 through 1990 to grant the wishes of dying children. Almost 86% of the money has been used to cover the costs of fund raising--primarily to professional telemarketing firms under contract to the charity to solicit contributions, the suit alleges.
The fund reported raising $1,255,728 from the public last year, but only $10,431 went directly to granting children’s wishes, according to the suit. And only five children benefited, the suit says.
The executive director of Children’s Wish Fund, Maurice Benkoil, has contended that the figures do not reflect the organization’s activities. He said the fund was nearly out of money when he took the reins last year and that he has been struggling to turn around the charity’s finances.
He could not be reached for comment Thursday on the judge’s order, which will be in effect for 20 days.
In his order, Judge Ely prohibited the charity from “conducting any charitable solicitation within the state of California in which it is expressed or implied that donations to Children’s Wish Fund will be used in any substantial degree for the purpose of granting wishes of dying children or for any charitable purpose at all.”
The attorney for the fund, E. Glynn Stanley Jr. of Fairfield, questioned the enforceability of the court order. “The order itself is onerous and is I believe dangerous from the point of view of free speech,” Stanley said. “I think at the very least it is a dangerous precedent.”
He said the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned rulings that require that charities reveal the percentage of their donations going directly to a charitable purpose as infringements on free speech.
But Deputy Atty. Gen. Peter K. Shack said the restraining order “goes a long way to protecting the public from being subjected to deceptive charitable solicitations. And I hope it goes a long way to encourage the public to ask pertinent questions when being solicited by charities. If not sure, the public needs to ask questions, to see financial statements.”
A hearing has been scheduled next month on the government’s request to extend the limitations on solicitations beyond the 20 days until the civil suit is decided.
The Children’s Wish Fund was incorporated in 1986 as the California Rainbow Children’s Wish Foundation with a single purpose--"to grant dying children their last wishes and request.”
Because of the attorney general’s lawsuit, several groups with similar names and purposes have expressed concerns about public confusion and its potential impact on donations. For instance, the Carson-based organization has no connection with the Children’s Wish Foundation International in Atlanta.