Money Appeal

POSTED: Friday, September 18, 2009 - 10:03am

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 2:24pm

Charities Living Up to Promise?

EL PASO--- KTSM Sales Rep Bobby Di Napoli gets what he calls junk mail all the time.
But recently one letter stood out above the rest.

"Well, I thought it was an invitation because of the way it looked. And then when I opened it up and started reading through it, it's a real heartfelt story," said Di Napoli.

It's a story about former Hartford, Conn. police officer Robert Lawlor, who's been accused of wrongfully killing a man in the line of duty.

" 'Dear friend, I wish I could sit down with you face to face, instead of writing this letter,' read the beginning of the four-page, back-and-front letter.
"I mean, automatically, it made me feel like it was writing it personally to me," said Di Napoli.

It is a letter, apparently written by Lawlor's wife, Stephanie.
Included in the envelope, a picture of Lawlor, Stephanie, and their six daughters.
Stephanie pleads for donations, asking the donor to help keep her husband out of jail and at home with their family.

But something about the letter and picture didn't seem right to Di Napoli.
"I was looking at the picture they sent over... I looked at the back, and I started looking at the writing, and saw this is not actually handwritten. It's computer generated," he said. "I thought, that was kind of awkward."

So, Bobby asked NewsChannel 9 to look into it.

Here's what we found out.

The charity named here is called the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, or LELDF, a national charity based out of Arlington, V.A.

We first called Lawlor's lawyer to find out if the charity actually helped in their defense.

"All I can say is they've helped Officer Lawlor immensely; more than any individual, person, or any other agency that's helped him. And he deeply appreciates their assistance," said Michael Georgetti, who has represented Lawlor since 2005.

Georgetti couldn't give us any specific numbers, but says tens of thousands of dollars have gone to Lawlor's defense.
Even so, Georgetti wouldn't go so far as to endorse the charity.

"Whether or not to give directly to a charity, such as the LELDF, I think is an individual's decision and I think each individual should make their own mind up," he said.

To make up our minds about the charity, we took our search to the Better Business Bureau.

"The BBB publishes a quarterly book that states all of the charities that have been inquired by consumers. We go ahead and do research on them," said Stephanie Abelleyra, a spokeswoman for the El Paso BBB.

That book is called the "Wise Giving Guide."
Of its 20 standards, the BBB looks into a charity's financial status, how much money it raises, and its legal standing.

However, when NewsChannel 9 looked for the LELDF in the BBB's 'Wise Giving Guide,' we found them on the 'Declined to be Evaluated or Did Not Respond,' list, which doesn't tell potential donors anything about the charity.

So we decided to look further.

We found www.charitynavigator.org, an online source to finding out more about charities; who they give to, and how much, based on the charity's IRS forms.

Here, some interesting numbers.
Of the more than $3.8 million received in 2007, only 10.9 percent was spent on legal causes like Robert Lawlor's case.
That's just over $360,000.

We called the organization's chairman, David Martin, to ask him why so little was spent on these cases.

"I can't give you a gross figure, but you have to pay for envelopes for paper, and printing... but the largest single cost for all of that is postage," said Martin.

That means the cost of their mass mailings to send letters like the one Di Napoli received, makes up 80 percent of all the charity's expenses.
But Martin says, in the charity's defense, they are now spending more on cases like Robert Lawlor's. So far, he says, they've spent $130,000 in his case.

"We spend more for our purposes each year and we have a better percentage each year as we grow," he said. Martin couldn't provide an exact percentage.

"So ten percent of help is, I guess, better than none," said Bobby. "But still, 10 percent, that's a lot of money when you really think about it that they're keeping."

So, even though the Lawlors are getting the help they need, Bobby says he won't be giving his precious dollars to this charity.

To check out a charity you have questions about, click on the following links:

www.bbb.org

www.charitynavigator.org

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