Charity solicitation regulation in Nevada and Las Vegas is elusive

Charity regulation in NevadaIn 2013 Nevada passed a law bolstering its regulation of most charities soliciting for donations, especially over the telephone. Among other things, the law required such charities to file with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office a financial report such as an IRS Form 990, which the agency “shall … post” on its website. A would-be donor contacted by a cold-calling telemarketer could determine if this was one of the many that spend only 10% or less of donations on its professed charitable cause.

But four years later, the secretary of state’s office still doesn’t post the required financial reports or 990s on its website. Nor does that agency or the Nevada Attorney General’s Office do much to make sure that charities asking Nevadans for their hard-earned dollars are on the up and up or to provided all the needed information. It doesn’t appear, for example, that either of the agencies, which by law share jurisdiction over charities, has even a single staffer devoted exclusively to charitable regulation. The secretary of state’s office is so sloppy that, until I pointed it out, the website listed citations to state law repealed several years ago.

Civil penalties? Cease and desist orders? Revocation of solicitation permissions? Not in Nevada.

I’ve only been New To Las Vegas for barely a year. But as as many of you know, I’ve been writing about charities for decades. To me it’s clear that as it’s being implemented, the Nevada system for overseeing charities is exceedingly weak and an open invitation for sharpies. I put that very observation in writing to flaks for both the SOS and AG–they are elected officials–asking for a response, and got none.

To gain a wider local audience, I’ve written a long essay about the shortcomings I see for The Nevada Independent. This is an donor-funded online news site recently founded by the well-known Nevada journalist Jon Ralston focusing on policy and politics in the Silver State.

Some of the material will be familiar to visitors to this blog, but there’s lots of new stuff. I invite you to read the article by clicking here.

And if you live in Nevada, weep.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Las Vegas trip by alleged Michigan embezzler

It Didn't Stay Here

Michelle Schneider (courtesy Grand Traverse County, Mich.)

The bug light known as Las Vegas glows far and wide. To remote corners of the country. Places like, say, Traverse City, Mich. That’s a remote, cultured scenic burg of 15,000 on an inlet off the eastern shore of Lake Michigan near the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. (Just before becoming New To Las Vegas, I put Traverse City on a Forbes retirement list.) The town is 2,000 miles from Las Vegas.

If the Traverse City authorities are to be believed, Michelle Schneider saw the glow. They say she embezzled funds from the Traverse City community college where she had worked as a technology specialist for four years to fund a number of personal expenses, including at least one trip to Las Vegas.

Schneider, 46, of suburban Grawn (yep, that’s the name of a place), faces one count of embezzlement for using a credit card issued by Northwestern Michigan College to charge up more than $9,000 in unauthorized expenses. She pleaded not guilty earlier this month in Michigan’s state court system and awaits further proceedings.

That’s enough to earn a nomination to my list It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster highlights folks in difficulties elsewhere for something that happened in Vegas. It’s a mildly satirical refutation of the incredibly well-known marketing pitch of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” The full list sits elsewhere on this page. Continue reading

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Unregistered charity with high overhead trolls for Las Vegas money

For once,Unregistered charity the cold caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters was a real person, as opposed to a computer using voice recognition technology. That made it a little easier to have a meaningful back and forth as she asked for a charitable contribution.

The cause, she said, was something called Veterans Trauma Support Network. I asked for its address, and she said it was based in Orlando, Fla. She described the organization as nationwide in scope, contributions to which would be tax-deductible. I listened patiently to her pitch that the money would help vets cope with PTSD and other ailments.

She said she worked for an outside paid fundraiser named Charitable Resource Foundation. Finally, I asked how much of donations would go to the stated cause as opposed to fundraising expense. Twelve percent, she said somewhat matter of factly.

Oh, I said. So 88% of all the money raised goes to the fundraiser like you?

The caller said coolly she wasn’t going to discuss the terms of her own compensation. As you might imagine, the call ended soon thereafter.

Quick research by me showed that Veterans Trauma Support Network isn’t its own charity at all but a fundraising trade name used by another charity called Crisis Relief Network. According to official websites, CRN’s fundraisers solicit for money under all kinds of evocative, wallet-tugging names. Besides Veterans Trauma Relief Network, they have included Child Watch of North America, Childhood Abuse and Trauma Foundation, Children’s Cancer Relief Foundation and Breast Cancer Relief Network. (The Child Watch department got some bad press in the San Francisco area last year for using pictures of missing children in its fundraising efforts without parental permission.)

That’s an awful lot of causes for a parent organization that according to the first page of its latest tax return had just one paid employee. Nor was that the only surprise. Continue reading

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Nevada mountain north of Las Vegas still named for Confederate leader

Jeff Davis Peak (via Wikipedia)

From what I see, folks in Nevada–which became a no-slave state on the Union side in 1864, during the Civil War–are feeling smug about all the Confederate memorials and statues being taken down across the South. Not to mention buildings and institutions named after slave-owning politicians being renamed, especially in the North and elsewhere. The Nevada attitude: nothing to see here.

But maybe not so fast. The state’s third highest point is Jeff Davis Peak. That’s right. It’s named for the same Jefferson Finis Davis of Mississippi who was the slave-owning president of the Confederate States of America during the four-year-long conflict from 1861 to 1865.

The 12,677-foot-high Snake Range summit is 300 miles due north of Las Vegas, southeast of the small city of Ely, off U.S. 6 near the Utah border in the scenic Great Basin National Park. That makes its owner the Federal Government, for those interested in seriously complaining about the name. Continue reading

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Firefighters charity cleared to solicit in Las Vegas is more smoke than fire

From the website of Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, you can determine if a specific charity is registered to solicit for donations in the Silver State. But that website won’t tell you at all if that charity has spent almost none of the money raised on good works and/or is poorly rated by charity watchdogs.

Indeed, the bland, bare-bones summary financial listing available–revenues, expenses, assets and liabilities–might even provide false comfort to an unwary donor. The display seems to be in keeping with Nevada’s failing grade regarding public access to information.

For such important charity data, you have to go to sources outside Nevada. Having written for decades about nonprofits big and small before becoming New To Las Vegas, I know a little bit about how to find, interpret and explain this material. So from time to time in this space, I’ll offer an overview of specific charities allowed to ask for money in Nevada, along with my opinion. Since most of them operate nationally, my musings might be of interest to viewers elsewhere.

Today’s subject is the Firefighters Charitable Foundation, of far-away Farmingdale, N.Y. It filed its current registration to solicit in Nevada less than a month ago on July 7.

According to its latest public IRS Form 990 tax filing (which I found outside Nevada), the FFCF spent less than 4% of the money raised on what I would call good works. Equally outrageously, nearly 90% of the donations went to paid fundraisers. And from the filing, it’s appears there was no iron-clad requirement that the few dollars remaining for good works all went to firefighters or even victims of fires. Reputable charity monitors have nothing good to say about the FFCF.

Want to know some more? Read on. Continue reading

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Las Vegas weddings are still a big industry

Las Vegas weddings

Britney Spears (via Wikipedia)

Remember that Britney Spears marriage to a childhood friend in 2004 that lasted only 55 hours? The wedding took place in Las Vegas, where nuptials remain almost as big a deal as gambling and entertainment.

Last year, 81,325 marriage licenses were issued in Clark County, home of Las Vegas. That’s one out of every 25 marriages in the entire country. County officials estimate 80% of the licenses go to tourists, or folks who don’t live here.

While way down from the 126,000 licenses generated in 2004, all this love still generates a lot of local loot. By one estimate, Las Vegas weddings create $2 billion a year in local revenue. Experts think 4% of the 40 million annual visitors to Las Vegas come to attend a wedding.

Las Vegas calls itself the Wedding Capital of the World, and there’s actually a Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce to promote the industry. Local poobahs bragged when the 10,000th same-sex marriage license was issued earlier this year.

Nevada has what are just about the most liberal marriage laws around. Don’t have to be a resident. No blood test required. No waiting period. Just be single, stay away from first or second cousins, be 18 years old, and bring ID. The state will allow an officiant to preside at a wedding with an “ordination” obtained over the Internet from an outfit like the Universal Life Church. This is a common way for a friend or family member, even from out of state, to preside at a Nevada wedding. Continue reading

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Trump partied in Las Vegas with Russians and infamous email writer

It Didn't Stay Here

Donald J. Trump (via Wikipedia)

For my list It Didn’t Stay Here, I have even a bigger name to nominate than French President Emmanuel Macron: Donald J. Trump.

CNN just posted video of a June 2013 schmoozy meeting in Las Vegas involving Trump, assorted rich or prominent Russians, and Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who wrote the now-infamous “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” email to Donald J. Trump Jr., who released it yesterday to the public just ahead of The New York Times.

Trump Jr.–who answered that email, “I love it”–wasn’t at the session, which occurred long before I became New To Las Vegas. But Trump Sr. certainly looks pretty chummy with all the Russians, some of whom are at the center of this email brouhaha. Trump ties with Russians are causing him all kinds of political problems in far-away Washington, D.C. He has denied much in the way of connections, but this isn’t going to help him.

My It Didn’t Stay Here list notes people in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. It’s a takeoff on “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. You can see previous nominees elsewhere on this page.

I think Trump may have some ‘splainin’ to do.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: 2016 Las Vegas trip by Emmanuel Macron under scrutiny

It Didn't Stay Here

Emmanuel Macron at the 2016 CES in Las Vegas (via Business France)

I finally have a big name to nominate for my list It Didn’t Stay Here, folks getting heat elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas: Emmanuel Macron. He’s only the newly elected president of France. Is that big enough for you?

According to the Associated Press, the Paris prosecutor’s office today–yes, today!–opened an investigation into “suspected irregularities in the organization of a costly, high-profile event at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show [in Las Vegas] that Macron headlined when he was a French government minister.”

My list, of course, pokes fun at “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” that great marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. It’s not always true, as you can ascertain quickly by clicking on the names of previous nominees found nearby on this page. Continue reading

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Miss. jailbreak leads to Las Vegas bust

It Didn't Stay Here

Issac Bennett (photos courtesy Tishomingo County Sheriff’s Office)

It Didn't Stay Here

Jonathan Hamm

Las Vegas is famous as a town of second chances, a place where someone can get a fresh start. It’s almost part of the culture and a reason, I suspect, why a lot of people gravitate here.

Well, that and maybe they also like to gamble.

With these possible motivations, Jonathan Hamm and Issac Bennett showed up last week in Sin City. They most recently were residents of Iuka, Miss., in the state’s hard-scrabble northeastern corner not far from Elvis Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo.

However, Hamm and Bennett carried some baggage. They were riding in a locally stolen car Bennett was driving when Las Vegas Metro police pulled them over late one night. Nor, as it turned out, was that the pair’s first stolen vehicle of the month. They had escaped together a week earlier from the Tishomingo County Jail in Iuka (pronounced eye-YOU-ka) and had swiped a vehicle to hot-foot it out of town. This buddy act was still on the lam.

Hamm, 26, and Bennett, 23, were arrested and put in a Clark County jail pending their eventual return to Mississippi. They will face escape, vehicle theft and damage-to-public-property charges on top of whatever they were in jail for in the first place.

Accordingly, I’m nominating Hamm and Bennett for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. It’s a roster of of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Vegas. This is a twist on the famous marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” You can find the entire list elsewhere on this page.

In this case, the Vegas happening is the continuing escape that ended here and will be prosecuted in Mississippi. It’s not clear if Bennett (whose first name is spelled variously in different official records as Issac or Isaac) as the driver will first face Nevada charges for stealing the car in which they were riding. Continue reading

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Las Vegas Strip isn’t in Las Vegas, and other oddities

Las Vegas Strip

Ex-Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman somewhere near Las Vegas and the Strip (via Zimbio)

Everyone around the world knows about the Las Vegas Strip. But does everyone know it isn’t in Las Vegas?

Nor is the main campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Or the Las Vegas Convention Center. Or even the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, a photo of which graces the top of this blog. The about-to-be-built stadium for the NFL’s transplanted Las Vegas Raiders? Fuggedaboutit.

You may have seen over the years any number of photos, like the one gracing this post, of mob-lawyer-turned-Las-Vegas-mayor-turned-retiree Oscar Goodman sipping a cocktail in the presence of Strip showgirls. You might think he had some official jurisdiction and authority over the Strip. You would be wrong. There’s even a pretty good chance such photos weren’t taken in Las Vegas or the Strip (this one from 2014 certainly wasn’t).

The post office aids this charade. It allows many addresses in unincorporated Clark County, a land mass bigger than Delaware and Connecticut combined, to say they are in world-famous Las Vegas rather than, say, the unincorporated townships of Paradise (the area to which I moved after becoming New To Las Vegas that also includes most of the Strip, UNLV and the proposed stadium) or Winchester (another area that contains part of the Strip).

All the locals know this, of course, but, I suspect, few of the visitors. There’s some interesting history here. Continue reading

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