State redistributes funds donated to allegedly fraudulent charity

Funds totaling $100,000 that were donated to an allegedly fraudulent superstorm Sandy charity have been distributed to Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County and the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that the remainder of the funds collected by the Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation (HSRF) would be used by the two nonprofits to help individuals and families who were affected by the storm.

“We are bringing closure to the many well-intentioned and generous donors who gave to this allegedly fraudulent charity, and bringing genuine relief to low-income families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Sandy,” Hoffman said in a press release.

The principals of HSRF, John Sandberg and Christina Terraccino, had previously settled with the state after the Division of Consumer Affairs and Division of Law filed suit against them for operating an unregistered charity, and allegedly misleading the public and making false claims while soliciting donations, a press release from the Attorney General’s Office states.

Habitat for Humanity of Monmouth County will receive $75,000. The funds will be used to construct homes for three low- to moderate-income families — one in Sea Bright and two in Union Beach. The families’ homes were destroyed during the superstorm on Oct. 29, 2012.

The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, based in Neptune, will receive $25,000, an amount in addition to the $50,000 the nonprofit received through an earlier distribution of HSRF donations in April. The money will be used to support the FoodBank’s network of food pantries and mobile pantries that provide food for thousands of families affected by Sandy.

The state filed suit in February 2013 against HSRF and its principals, alleging they misled the public by diverting donated funds into personal accounts, falsely claimed donations were tax-deductible when the organization did not have nonprofit status and operated an unregistered charity, among other violations of New Jersey’s Charitable Registration and Investigations Act, Charities Regulations Act and Consumer Fraud Act. Through a settlement reached in June 2013, a court-appointed organization administrator took control of HSRF and its financial accounts in order to properly distribute donated funds and dissolve the organization.

In addition, the settlement agreement permanently bars Sandberg and Terraccino from ever operating any charitable organizations related to superstorm Sandy, and bars them for at least two years from serving in leadership positions in any charitable organization in New Jersey.

With the most recent announcement, a total of $325,000 received by HSRF from donors has been distributed to legitimate charitable organizations for the aid of Sandy victims. The initial $225,000 was distributed in April to three organizations registered in New Jersey and one registered in New York.

All of the organizations that received HSRF donations were selected based on their proposals to specifically use the money to help Sandy victims in accordance with the representations that HSRF originally made to the public when soliciting donations, the press release states.

The Division of Consumer Affairs encourages New Jersey consumers to learn as much as possible about any charity before deciding to make a donation. Consumers should do the following:

 Find out whether the charity is registered in New Jersey or is exempt from having to register.

 Find out how much the charity spent during recent fiscal years on program costs, management costs and fundraising.

 Learn about the charity’s stated mission.

Consumers may obtain information about a charity in several ways: Ask a representative of the charity; visit the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Charities Registration page; call the division’s Charities Hotline at 973-504-6215 during regular business hours; or use the division’s free New Jersey Charity Search smartphone app.

Consumers can file a complaint with the division by visiting the website or calling 800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.