Faux volunteer firefighter cause trolls Las Vegas and nationally

The recent cold caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters used the name Shawn (or maybe Sean). He said he was soliciting a donation for something called National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters.

In my view, he made it sound like a charity and pressed real hard for me to commit to a specific dollar pledge before mailing me written materials. Shawn was also not a real person, but a voice generated by a computer, most likely with an actual human monitoring the conversation and hitting keys to provide canned responses.

All this is a common m.o. for what I call a faux charity–a purported cause that spends almost all the money raised on fundraising and overhead and virtually nothing on the stated cause, while implying it operates with charitable motives. They are hoping that would-be donors won’t ask up front about financial efficiencies or won’t know how to find the answers for themselves.

In this case NCVF, ostensibly based in Boston, is a political action committee. That’s not a charity at all, of course, but a so-called 527 organization–named after a provision of federal tax law–that says it takes contributions to support candidates for public office who will support its goals. Here, this presumably would have something to do with volunteer firefighters. 527 outfits are lightly regulated, to say the least.

I just dug up NCVF’s public record financial filings with the Internal Revenue Service from its creation last December 18 through June 30, just a few weeks ago. Some $241,027 was listed as donated from across the country, and $220,627 listed as spent. By my reckoning, here is how much of that $220,627 was spent supporting volunteer firefighters:


Here’s how much of that $220,627 was spent in fundraising and overhead expense:


The $20,400 difference between donations and expenditures–only 8% of the amount donated–isn’t going to help very many political candidates and is hardly commensurate with the amount contributed. And I imagine many donors would not be happy to know that 92% of their gifts have no chance of benefiting even a single volunteer firefighter.

And as it turns out, NCVF has an interesting connection with another PAC with dreadful financial efficiencies that also solicited in the name of volunteer firefighters–and got in trouble for it. That entity, Heroes United PAC, became enmeshed in serious regulatory scrutiny in Maryland under one of its several fundraising d/b/a’s, Volunteer Firefighters Association, and actually ceased operations not long after after NCVF was created.

Heroes United PAC happens to be an outfit that I critically wrote about two years ago this week–way before Maryland acted–when I was cold-called several times for donations under one of its other d/b/a’s, Association for Police and First Responders PAC. That may be another reason why Shawn’s patter rang a bell for me.

Here’s the connection. According to NCVF’s initial report filed with the IRS on December 18, 2019, its treasurer and sole officer and director is one Matthew Greenlee. Exactly a month earlier, on November 18, 2019, the Montgomery County (Md.) Office of Consumer Protection issued a press release stating Greenlee was one of two people who signed an agreement on behalf of Heroes United PAC pledging to stop fundraising in Montgomery County and offer refunds on request to what the press release called “scammed residents” affected by “deceptive telemarketing.” The press release specifically cited Heroes United PAC’s “fraudulent business model.” The agreement, which also required Heroes United PAC to pay regulators $1,000, identified Greenlee as “director” of Heroes United PAC.

The main figure behind Heroes United PAC, and the other signer to that Montgomery County agreement, was Zachary Bass. At one point he might have been America’s king of faux charities. Bass also operated American Coalition for Injured Veterans PAC and Community Health Council PAC d/b/a Breast Cancer Health Council PAC. They both had terrible financials and made the mistake of cold-calling me asking for donations (click here and click here). There’s no evidence on the public record that Greenlee was involved with those two.

On March 26, 2020, Bass filed a “termination report” concerning Heroes United PAC with the Federal Election Commission, regulator of that kind of PAC. The document stated his organization has “terminated its ongoing activities” and made refunds to 10 Montgomery County donors. About the same time, Bass also shut down his two other PACs

Before NCVF’s latest quarterly numbers were filed with the IRS last week, I’ve had a bit of email back-and-forth with Greenlee. Despite the timing of its creation, he said NCVF was “not a successor or related to Heroes United.” Added Greenlee, “I left my role as a member of the advisory board for Heroes United to go a different direction,” which might mean that Bass is not connected with NCVF. Greenlee said he signed the Montgomery County agreement with Bass only because “it had required two signatures.” Despite the explicit language in the Montgomery County press release suggesting fraud and scammery, Greenlee insisted, “There was no wrongdoing whatsoever.”

Since I now have the latest NCVF filings, I’ve put a number of questions to Greenlee about points raised in this post, especially NCVF’s financial efficiencies. I also asked this: If NCVF is on the up-and-up, why can’t it even agree on its name? Yes! On its website’s contact page, the name was given as National Coalition for Volunteer Firefighters (my emphasis) rather than Committee, which is used elsewhere and in IRS filings. Here’s how it appeared on the website:

A few hours after I sent my questions, “Coalition” was changed to “Committee” on the web page. So I’m pretty sure my request for comment was received, and, in an odd way, partially answered. As it happened, my questions asked for the names of the persons on the “committee” and also whether any of them was a volunteer firefighter. I’m still waiting on that, as well as responses to all the other questions, including if Bass has any connection with NCVF. The filings I saw suggest NCVF and Heroes United share at least one fundraising vendor.

As it turned out, Bass had a similar name consistency problem at Heroes United PAC. One of his d/b/a’s used Association for Police and First Responders on its website and in calling me, but Association of Police and First Responders in regulatory filings. I still don’t know for sure which was correct.

Anyway. I’ll update this post if I hear back. Who know, maybe I’ll even get another call from Shawn.

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


Faux volunteer firefighter cause trolls Las Vegas and nationally — 12 Comments

  1. Scamhunter5171, I’m not sure there are minimum requirements for fundraising or expenditures for a PAC, so long as it is registered appropriately with either the FEC or IRS.

  2. I’m only just beginning to delve into some of the financial and other aspects of this, and I’ll probably never be as good at it as you are. (Those folks at The Daily Beast and OpenSecrets.org did some deep digging, too.)
    But I might also pose an argument that if they aren’t registered as a PAC because they have raised or spent a threshold amount, then they’re not a PAC, and should have no exception under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
    A judge might call that a “novel” argument, but I’m not a lawyer, so maybe I can scoot by under some rule of “lenity.”
    Thanks again for shining some light on all this.
    You might already be aware of this one, since James Kyle Bell is from Nevada.
    “Bell diverted almost all of the funds from PAC donors and the taxpayer-supported PPP loans to bank accounts where they could be used for Bell’s personal benefit, commingling the proceeds of the fraud and further violating federal campaign finance laws with exacting record keeping for PACs. According to court papers, the government has located and seized $519,000 of Bell’s criminal proceeds. Bell’s plea agreement requires that Bell make full restitution to his victims and agree to the entry of a money judgement of $862,000 against him.”

  3. Today I checked my p.o. box, and there was a new mailing from the “National Breast Cancer Committee PAC,” with a return address of P.O. Box 5167, Elm Grove, WI. The window envelope is a style I haven’t seen anywhere else, except on the mailings I received from the “National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters PAC” (Brookfield, WI) and the “Breast Cancer Relief Committee PAC” (Waukesha, WI). The “NBCC” mailing was addressed to the same fake name I gave the “records department” AI at the “NCVF” about 2½ weeks ago.
    Google Maps says a round trip from Waukesha to Elm Grove to Brookfield and back to Waukesha would take about 43 minutes; Brookfield and Elm Grove are about 6 minutes apart.
    Not exactly evidence, but . . .
    I also found out that neither the “NCVF” nor the “BCRC” PAC is registered with the Maine Ethics Commission. I’m hoping to have a conversation with the Political Committee & Lobbyist Registrar who told me in an email that “Organizations are required to register as PACs in Maine once they raise or spend more than $2,500 to influence candidate elections in the State.” I’m not sure how I’d find out if any of the above have “crossed that threshold” (her words), but it sounds like an interesting endeavor. Want to bet that the “raise” part would beat the “spend” part by a long shot?

  4. Scamhunter5171, it’s not hard to find local volunteer firefighter outfits complaining about the faux charities I write about. A decent Google/Big search should bring up some examples. But, sadly, it doesn’t seem the locals complain formally to government authorities that might be in a position to do something.

  5. Sorry I missed your 01/13 reply until now. Thanks for the quick response.
    This morning (02/04/23), they called my cell phone again. I imagine there’s a “human” running the soundboard for the AI, but all that my requests to speak to an actual person got nothing but a quick “I’ll put you on our do not call list” and the call ended.
    When I tried to call back from my cell number, I got something about “The number you have dialed is not in service.” But when I called back with another number, I got throguh, and it was answered by the same AI. I think “he” always says “The reason I’m calling is…” Actually, I called you, “Mike” (or whatever the name was), but here we go. This time I played along better, and eventually ended up with what I’m pretty sure was another AI.
    “She” asked for a credit card number, but I said I’d send a check. I gave “her” a fake name, but a real address (p.o. box). I’ll post more if I get anything from them.
    I was unable to record the incoming call, but I’m pretty sure I have a recording of the call where I talked to the second person. (Or AI, whichever.)
    So if they’re neither (legally?) a PAC nor a charity, they shouldn’t have any exceptions under the TCPA. I’d like to be able to sue them for their robocalls.
    I’m going to try and reach out to some REAL volunteer firefighter organizations, both to ask if any department has ever received financial help from “NCVF PAC,” and whether any department has found their local fundraising efforts have been hurt because citizens say “We already gave to that national committee that called.”
    Thanks again for your efforts to expose these scammers.

  6. Scamhunter5171, this PAC files at the IRS, not the FEC. Many PACs like this one seem to prefer to file at the IRS because the website is harder to search and the individual filings do little totaling, forcing the research to waste a lot of time. The faux charities, as I call them, deserve to be put out of business.

  7. I got a call this morning from them (they were dumb enough to use an unspoofed toll-free number), and when I called back, it was answered by “Mike Anderson at the National Police & Sheriff’s Coalition PAC.” He’s actually an AI (artificial intelligence), and I think “John” at the [Firefighters] scam was an AI, too. The police scam operation’s address appears to be in a business block (“Suite something-or-other”) in Bridgeview, Illinois.
    The “police & sherif’s” scam,like the “firefighters” scam, appears to have multiple websites. I think “Mike” also gave me a different phone number than the one I called.I think his roboscript for inbound calls is the same as they use for outbound calls.
    The “police & sheriff’s” URL that “Mike” answered one of my questions with says they’re “an IRS 527 political committee,” but I haven’t yet found any forms filed under that name on the IRS site. Like the children with disabilities/Autism scam you exposed, I bet they don’t contribute a dime to anything, political or otherwise.
    Keep exposing these rats.

  8. Michael Sugar, is the name of the organization that called you “National Association for Firefighters,” as you wrote, or “National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters,” as I wrote? The one I wrote about lists a Boston address. I am not aware of a PAC called the “National Association fore Firefighters.”

  9. As of 6-15-2021, these scum bags are still in business
    but calling themselves the National Association for
    Firefighters. They supposedly are located in Boston,MA.
    THEY ARE NOT A RECOGNIZED CHARITY. They are a Political Action Committee. They are calling and soliciting donations via telephone in California. They would not divulge what percentage of funds go to firefighters nor would they divulge how much was retained for Shawn and the other professional fund raisers. DONATIONS TO THEM ARE NOT TAX DEDUCTIBLE. DO NOT AGREE TO SEND THEM ANY MONEY. CONTRIBUTE ONLY TO LEGITIMATE 501(C)3 CHARITIES.

  10. I get a call from these guys everyday at 7pm. Block number and get another number calling. Blocked 4 so far.

So what's your take?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.