California Attorney General Xavier Becerra this week announced a multistate settlement with VietNow National Headquarters, Inc., a charity that falsely claimed to help veterans. As part of the settlement, the organization will be dissolved and its funds will be distributed to two national and well respected veterans charities, Fisher House Foundation and Operation Homefront. The settlement also places a permanent injunction on VietNow’s directors and officers, barring them from any future involvement in running a charity or soliciting donations.
“Veterans and their families sacrifice immensely for our country. They deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity,” Becerra said. “It’s a breach of the public trust to deceive and exploit the good will of generous Americans. It’s even worse when you do so at the expense of our veterans. The California Department of Justice will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute any charity falsely claiming to help our veterans.”
VietNow falsely told prospective donors that it had significant charitable programs, according to Becerra’s office. In reality, of the almost $4 million it raised in the last two years, nearly 90 percent of VietNow’s funds went directly to its for-profit professional fundraiser, Corporations for Character. Less than $10,000 was spent on charitable programs.
California law requires charities and fundraisers to notify the attorney general when they have violated the laws in other states. VietNow failed to notify Becerra of an action taken by the Michigan attorney general, according to Becerra’s office. As a result, when California learned that VietNow had violated Michigan’s laws, Becerra issued a cease-and-desist order prohibiting VietNow from operating or soliciting donations in California. The settlement, which is joined by 20 other states, resolves the cease-and-desist order in California and is coordinated with the resolution of an action in Illinois that shuts down the facility. Becerra also issued a cease-and-desist order against Corporations for Character. That action is not part of the settlement.
In California, the attorney general has the primary responsibility for supervising charities and professional fundraisers who solicit on their behalf. Under Government Code section 12580 et seq., the attorney general may investigate and bring legal actions against charities and fundraisers that misuse charitable assets or engage in fraudulent fundraising practices.
Source: Becerra’s office