east palestine ohio

Funds Raised by Sham Charity Will Benefit East Palestine

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Funds raised by a sham charity after the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment will now benefit residents in the village. 

Through a settlement announced Wednesday by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, the Ohio Clean Water Fund must turn over more than $131,000 in pocketed donations. 

“I stand by my word to fight for the community of East Palestine,” Yost said in a news release. “We sued to make sure the contributions improperly solicited from well-intentioned donors get into the hands of people who will use them for their intended purposes. Our fight isn’t over, but this is a win.”

Yost’s initial lawsuit alleged that the Ohio Clean Water Fund, while claiming to be operating on behalf of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, raised more than $141,000 to provide bottled water and emergency aid to East Palestine residents after the train derailment.

Second Harvest had not given OCWF permission to fundraise on its behalf, and the lawsuit revealed that OCWF had pocketed at least $131,000 of the donated funds, while giving only $10,000 to the food bank.

The Attorney General’s Office plans to disburse recovered funds to the food bank.

The settlement includes a dismissal of the claims against the OCWF and one of its board members, Patrick Lee.

Under the agreement:

  • The Ohio Clean Water Fund must pay $131,904.88, including $116,904.88 in restitution and $15,000 in civil penalties.
  • The Ohio Clean Water Fund must dissolve.
  • Lee is barred from being a board member of or soliciting money for a charity in the future.

Yost’s lawsuit remains active against OCWF creator Michael Peppel.

For those wanting to make a charitable contribution, Yost encourages donors to research charities and ask the right questions. Follow these steps to ensure that your money is going to a reputable charity:

  • Visit the attorney general’s Good Giving Guidelines and Research Charities website to check whether charities have complied with registration requirements. Media articles and other postings can also provide useful details about groups, board members and key employees.
  • View 990 forms, which most tax-exempt groups must file with the Internal Revenue Service. These forms describe where organizations get their funding and how they spend it.
  • Support familiar, established organizations, or, if considering a donation to an unfamiliar group, check its website first. Does the information match what you received when you were asked to contribute? Do the group’s programs and services make sense?
  • Talk with friends and family about unfamiliar solicitations. Have they heard of the group? Do they know of anyone who has been assisted by it?

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.