The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the state Division of Consumer Affairs say that the Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation, set up by Sparta, N.J., couple John Sandberg and Christina Terraccino, has raised $630,000 but has so far disbursed only $2,000, according to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger (“PayPal account pulled from troubled Hurricane Sandy charity's website,” by Lisa Rose).
An investigation by the Asbury Park Press found that the self-styled charity group made false claims about its operators’ credentials and backing (“Group pulls in $1 million in Sandy charity money while skirting NJ law,” by Shannon Mullen). “HSRF’s co-founder, John Sandberg, claims to have a degree from Seton Hall University, yet the school’s registrar’s office says he didn’t graduate,” reports the Press. “Two of the corporate ‘sponsors’ cited on the HSRF website, www.sandyrelief.org, say they aren’t sponsoring the foundation.”
And although Sandberg and Terraccino claim they aren’t being paid by the charity, the state sees things differently, reports the Press (“Watchdog: State sues Sandy relief fund,” by Shannon Mullen): “Operators of a Sandy relief group diverted more than $17,000 in donated funds to eat out, pay credit card bills and shop online, while storm victims received just $1,650 in aid, an ongoing state investigation has found.”
If things go badly for the pair, penalties could be severe, the Star-Ledger reports: “Nearly 2,000 people gave money to the fund and the couple could be fined up to $20,000 for each individual donation, according to a DCA spokesman.”
For now, however, the state is only freezing their accounts, the Attorney General’s office said in a press release: “The operators of a purported charity who claimed donations will aid victims of Superstorm Sandy have been temporarily barred from soliciting additional donations, and must preserve the money and items donated to date, following the Court’s acceptance today of temporary restraints and other interim relief requested by the State and agreed to by the defendants.”
“Defendants Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation (‘HSRF’) and its operators, John Sandberg and Christina Terraccino, also agreed to place the approximately $631,000.00 donated to date and any donations that come in after this point into an interest-bearing attorneys’ escrow account. Sandberg, 30, and Terraccino, 27, both residents of Sparta, also must deposit $13,596.53 into the escrow account. The State in its lawsuit filed on February 21, 2013, alleged that they had transferred $13,596.53 of HSRF donations into their personal accounts.”