EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Tuesday he filed a lawsuit against a fake charity, which claimed it was collecting donations to assist East Palestine residents after the Feb. 3 train derailment. However, those representing the so-called charity were actually pocketing much of the money from donors.
The lawsuit alleges that Mike Peppel solicited contributions through his Ohio Clean Water Fund, which presented itself as a nonprofit acting on behalf of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley. It said that it would provide residents with bottled water and other emergency aid.
Yost claimed Peppel and other individuals pocketed around $131,000 of the estimated $141,000 they received from more than 3,000 donors.
“The idea that somebody would so brazenly exploit a disaster situation and the good hearts of people who want to help is unconscionable,” Yost said. “I’m mad as hell about this, and we’re going to make sure this sham charity gets shut down.”
Yost said representatives of Second Harvest Food Bank made complaints to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, saying the partnership Peppel cited wasn't authorized.
To stop Peppel's acts, Yost is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. It would prohibit Peppel from going further with more charitable solicitations, as well as preserve existing charitable assets.
Yost said the Second Harvest Food Bank confronted Peppel twice, asking him to stop advertising the non-authorized partnership. Yost said Peppel paid only $10,000 to the food bank, "a mere 7% of what Peppel admits he raised."
“Here’s a message for anybody else who might hope to profit from the situation in East Palestine: Don’t even think about it,” Yost said.
To ensure donors' money goes to reputable charities, Yost's office gave these tips:
- The attorney general's Good Giving Guidelines and Research Charities webpage lists what 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?