In Las Vegas, a faux firefighter charity mails an illegal solicitation–to a dog

faux firefighter charity

Illegal request for payment addressed to a Las Vegas dog

I’ve written it before, and I’m writing it again. National Committee for Volunteers Firefighters PAC is one dumb organization. Why? The outfit, which says it is based in Boston, keeps calling me at the New to Las Vegas world headquarters asking for money even though I’ve blistered it several times in this space (click here and here).

NCVF-PAC presents like a charity–it’s not–and has spent virtually none of the money raised nationally during its entire existence on its stated mission of, well, helping volunteer firefighters politically. (PAC stands for political action committee.) In the world of fundraising, making follow-up calls to a possible donor under these circumstances can’t get any more moronic. That’s why NCVF-PAC, which I call a faux charity, long has been a candidate for my running list of America’s Stupidest Charities, which you can see nearby on this page.

On top of this, the recent outreach to me violated a 2021 Nevada law prohibiting all fundraising for, among other topics, firefighting personnel within the state without first registering with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office and making filings, on pain of incurring civil penalties. I checked, and there’s no registration in Nevada for NCVF-PAC. Never has been. Yet the presenting NCVF-PAC caller–not an actual human but rather a computer-generated voice using the bland name “Tom Evans” secretly monitored by a real person with soundboard technology–falsely told me when I asked point-blank that the organization was indeed registered to solicit in the Silver State. That strikes me as a possible separate violation of Nevada’s deceptive trade practices law.

NCVC-PAC and other faux charities make tens of thousands of illegal calls a year to my fellow Nevadans, some of whom, alas, fork over some hard-earned funds. Yet it’s my perception that the Nevada state government, which runs without a state income tax, is not exactly overstaffed with investigators or lawyers tasked with regulating these kinds of matters to protect the public.

So I decided to play along, with an appropriate twist, to see what kind of documentary evidence I could generate to prove beyond my own words that NCVF-PAC was illegally operating in Nevada. A few minutes later, I told a different computer-controlled NCVF-PAC voice, “Emma Thompson” (I’m guessing at the spelling) that a pledge card could be mailed. A name and an address were provided. Days later, the pledge card asking for payment arrived in the mail.

Addressed to my dog.

Yes! You can see part of the invoice letter nearby, with some identifying detail redacted. Carrizozo, my nearly 10-year-old basset hound, is being billed for $30 by NCVF-PAC’s cynically named “Fundraising Committee.”

I’ll get back to the dog in a bit. But meanwhile, here’s a little more on NCVF-PAC and its purported founder, one Matthew Greenlee. That’s his real name. We go back a few years. I might even call him a repeat offender.

My financial analysis is based on NCVF-PAC’s many periodic filings under oath with the Internal Revenue Service, which is one of two federal agencies that oversee PACs. The other is the Federal Election Commission. In my view they both do a terrible job in this area. The filings are public but sorta hard to find and analyze unless you’ve been writing about fundraising like I have for decades.

In its four-and-a-half years of operation through March 31, 2024, NCVF-PAC reported receiving a total of $6.85 million in contributions, mostly from sucker Moms and Pops across the country, and spending roughly the same amount. But no more than $2,853–a single advertising expenditure in 2020, to me, almost an accident–was classified as being for anything other than fundraising and related overhead. Put another way, and rounding, 0% of the donations went directly toward the stated mission, while 100% went out the door in everything-else costs.Would-be donors might want to know about these awful percentages and the utter uselessness of their gifts.

The filings listed clearly where the donations went: fundraising, donor management, database services, direct mail services, postage, merchant processing, software provider, data entry, database services, payroll and accounting and IT. What wasn’t listed was something like “political support for volunteer firefighters.” The vendors, who likely control almost everything, were mainly operators I recognize as serving other faux charities.

Going by the IRS filings and the difference between receipts and disbursements, the NCVF-PAC likely had less than $10,000 in cash on hand on March 31, 2024. This small sum isn’t going to help implement much of the mission going forward.

And what was that important mission? Here’s how NCVF-PAC put it to the IRS under oath in its initial filing on December 18, 2019:

The National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters mission is to push for the election of candidates who will champion our priority issues affecting volunteer firefighters along with holding elected officials accountable for their votes and actions and to accept contributions and make expenditures for political activity …

You can hear a typical NCVF-PAC phone pitch in the name of the aforementioned “Tom Evans” that someone in another state recorded (it’s arguably illegal to do that in Nevada) and posted online by clicking here. It’s pretty similar to what I heard. Because of that Nevada law, I didn’t record “Tom Evans” lying to me on the phone that NCVF-PAC was registered to solicit in Nevada. But from the invoice it’s pretty clear our conversation was tape-recorded at the other end and presumably could be requested as part of a proper investigation.

NCVF-PAC’s latest filing stated that both its “business address” and “mailing address” were at the same location on Washington Mall in Boston. That appears to be a mail drop at a Staples store. IRS instructions specify that the actual business address must be stated “if different from mailing address.” The average mail drop, I think, is a little to small to house an actual independent business.

The mailing permit number on the envelope and the return address on the invoice track back to Brookfield, Wisc. That’s a suburb of Milwaukee known to be a center of faux charity back-office operations. The postage area on the envelope contains a barcode that likely can provide more information when scanned by a proper reader.

Greenley, who signed all of NCVF-PAC’s filings with the IRS, is the only name on the paperwork. At various times he’s been listed as founder, treasurer, custodian of records, contact person and the only board member and officer. (To my mind, something calling itself  a “committee” needs more than one person.) An IRS form 990 tax return–yes, another public record–signed by Greenlee that NCVF-PAC filed in 2022 for calendar year 2021 says he wasn’t being paid. I suspect Greenlee was compensated by vendors if he doesn’t have an equity interest. Perhaps the Morristown, Tenn., tax preparer listed on the return might know more.

Why did I earlier call Greenlee a repeat offender? He has a track record in the rather specialized field of faux charities trolling for volunteer firefighters.

On November 18, 2019, a month before Greenlee filed paperwork with the IRS for NCVF-PAC, Maryland’s Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection issued a press release listing Greenlee as one of two signers to an agreement sanctioning Heroes United PAC, officially described as a “fictitious business seeking donations to benefit local volunteer firefighters.” Using the trade name Volunteer Firefighters Association, Heroes United PAC raised nearly $5 million nationally. It agreed to refund contributions from “scammed residents” of Montgomery County, a swank suburb of Washington, D.C . The press release flatly called Heroes United PAC a “fraudulent business model.”

The other signer, and seemingly the main character, was Zachary Bass, who ran a string of faux charities I had written about after being called (click here and here). Heroes United PAC soon went out of business.

In 2021, Nevada, where I live, passed a law dramatically expanding pre-registration requirements for fundraising within the state beyond traditional tax-exempt charities to any organization trolling for, among other causes, “the benefit of … firefighting … personnel.” The law, codified as Nevada Revised Statutes 82A.010 et seq., embraces nearly all fundraising entities, including PACs. The statute provides for cease-and-desist letters and civil penalties of up to $1,000. The Nevada Secretary of State’s Office is well aware of this law, although it hasn’t been enforced.

I emailed Greenlee a request for comment on many of the points I raised above. I’ll update this post if I hear back. Years ago, he wrote me that his involvement with Heroes United PAC was only as an advisory board member and that “there was no wrongdoing whatsoever.” The more aggressive regulators in Montgomery County, Md., clearly had a different view.

Which gets me back to my dog, theoretically on the hook for $30.00.

I was inspired to use Carrizozo, whose nickname is Zozo ,by stories I wrote for in 2009 about Allan Roth, a smart financial planner in Colorado Springs. He was fed up by mailings from Consumers’ Research Council of America, a Washington, D.C., stalking horse for a California trophy maker, offering to sell him–and lots of other folks–overpriced personalized plaques touting a thinly researched status as one of “America’s Top Financial Planners.”

How thin? Roth sent in a check but asked that the plaque be issued in the name of Max Tailwagger–his Dachshund puppy. Soon thereafter, the plaque arrived–dutifully lauding the financial prowess of his dog. Max died a couple years ago at age 12, but his owner still displays the plaque. “He deserved it,” Roth told me yesterday. Consumers’ Research Council of America–which kept Conrad Murray on its roster of “America’s Top Cardiologists,” one of its many other lists, despite his conviction for administering that lethal dose of propofol to singer Michael Jackson in 2009–also seems to be gone.

In case you wonder, Carrizozo’s name comes from the county seat of Lincoln County, N.M.. That’s where New Mexico’s most famous historical figure–the killer Billy the Kid–plied his deadly trade 150 years ago. With that kind of background, asking a non-human to send a pledge to another non-human struck me as an appropriate way to pin things down.

Despite some emotional intelligence, Zozo, as we call her, can’t read. So I summarized the contents of the invoice to her. She yawned and went back to sleep. But they can read in Carson City. With I’ve laid out here, we’ll see if this gets anyone’s attention there.

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