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:

$0.

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

$220,627.

The difference, $20,400–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.


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