RICHMOND — Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 11 states in securing a settlement with a Florida-based veterans’ charity called Healing Heroes Network, Inc. and its former directors, Stacey Spiegel, Allan Spiegel and Neal Spiegel.
The settlement resolves allegations of deceptive sweepstakes mailers and telephone solicitations to help wounded veterans. Under the terms of the settlement, Healing Heroes Network, Inc. and the related organization Hero Giveaways, LLC to permanently cease all charitable solicitations to help wounded veterans, and the Spiegels have agreed to pay $95,000 to be provided to a veterans’ charity whose mission matches the representations made by the charity.
The Spiegels are banned for five years from overseeing, managing or soliciting charitable contributions for any nonprofit organization.
“Organizations and individuals who deceive kind-hearted Virginians who only want to help veterans and servicemembers are despicable and must be held accountable,” Herring said. “Deceptive charities will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth and my office will continue to vigorously pursue bad actors who take advantage of the kindness of Virginians to line their own pockets. I want to encourage any Virginian who plans on donating to charities to do your research and make sure you are donating to legitimate, trustworthy organizations.”
The investigation revealed that donors contributed millions of dollars as a result of deceptive sweepstakes mailers and telephone solicitations. The organization promised to use donations to help wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan receive medical treatments that the Department of Veterans Affairs did not readily provide.
The charity also falsely claimed on social media in 2016 and 2017 to dedicate 100 percent of proceeds to wounded veterans. The investigation revealed that very little of the charitable contributions received by the Healing Heroes Network were used to further this charitable mission. Instead, donations were used to pay professional fundraisers, online advertising fees, the salaries of Stacey Spiegel and her son, Neal Spiegel, and to purchase t-shirts from another family member’s t-shirt business.
Also, part of the settlement is Hero Giveaways, LLC, a business formed by Stacey Spiegel and Neal Spiegel after Healing Heroes Network, Inc. became the subject of a multistate investigation, and which continued the organization’s deceptive practices.
Joining Attorney General Herring in this settlement agreement are the states of Washington, Florida, Ohio, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico and California. This action is part of Operation Donate With Honor, a nationwide consumer protection law enforcement sweep Attorney General Herring joined to combat veterans’ fundraising fraud through education and enforcement.
Operation Donate With Honor was coordinated in 2018 by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of State Charities Officials, to target fraudulent charities affecting veterans and groups that claimed to be using their donations to help America’s former servicemen and women, but were in fact designed primarily to enrich the charities founders and professional fundraisers.
Virginia’s settlement is the form of a Consent Judgment, which was filed in and approved by the Richmond City Circuit Court.
Tips to remember when donating to charities and other organizations:
On crowdfunding sites:
Check the creator or page owner's credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness
Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns. Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site's fraud protection measures
Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community
Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster. They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people
Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services
Beware of “copy-cat” names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations
Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity
Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately
Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity’s mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. Just because a “charity” has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductible
Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation. For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card
If contributing over the Internet, be sure the web site you are visiting belongs to the charity to which you want to donate. See if other legitimate web sites will link to that web site. Make sure the web site is secure and offers protection of your credit card number
If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (“OCRP”) at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP’s Charitable Organization Database online
While a legitimate charity should be registered with OCRP to solicit contributions in Virginia, registration alone does not mean that the organization will be effective