A Great Neck family set up a fake breast cancer charity and used it to swindle donors out of more than $500,000 - some of which went to support a lavish lifestyle, according to state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office.
The AG's office said Wednesday that David and Mindy Winston, along with their three adult children, set up a nonprofit corporation called the Coalition for Breast Cancer Cures. The coalition allegedly used credit card numbers it obtained through fundraising letters to make multiple charges without permission, the attorney general's office said.
Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bucaria in Mineola issued a temporary restraining order stopping the Winstons from taking in or cashing more donations.
A Cuomo spokesman said the office found no evidence that the coalition used the money on research or awareness projects. Instead, the money went to the family's expenses at hotels, upscale restaurants and stores like Louis Vuitton and Victoria's Secret.
"The entire charity was bogus," the spokesman said.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case but the investigation is ongoing.
Brian Griffin, an attorney representing the Winstons, called the AG's claims "completely inaccurate."
Griffin said allegations that the coalition spent money improperly "do not fairly depict the reality that all 'not for profits' have a wide range of valid institutional and administrative expenses."
He declined further comment. No one answered at the family's home last night.
Cuomo's office provided a fundraising letter that officials said was sent by the group. The letter is dated Nov. 20, 2009, and lists a pledge supposedly made six months earlier by the targeted donor.
"Unfortunately, we have not received your pledge as of this date," the letter reads.
It asks the recipient, whose name is redacted, to help fund "tireless efforts on your behalf and of all women." The letter asks for $25 or more, and $3 to "help defray postage."
About a dozen people who received letters from the group, from Long Island, New York City and Westchester, contacted Cuomo's office. One of them, Adelphi University professor Stephen Z. Goldberg, said his mother survived breast cancer. "That is one of the reasons I was particularly incensed," he said.
The first letter Goldberg received said he made a pledge in October 2008, on the day after Yom Kippur. The problem, he said, was he remembered he had been out of town for the holiday.
"I immediately recognized it as a fraud," Goldberg said. "I was 100 percent certain I had never made a pledge to them."
How AG says it was spent
The Attorney General's lawsuit alleges that the donations collected by CBCC or Resource Center were used for the Winstons' personal expenses. The investigation uncovered expenditures of charitable funds for:
Over $3,700 in personal hotel and airfare expenses
Over $5,000 at restaurants including Peter Luger Steakhouse, Caesars Palace Mesa Grill, and Gotham Bar and Grill
Over $8,000 for sorority dues and other university expenses and fees
Over $1,300 for a spring break travel package
Thousands of dollars on groceries, Netflix, and cable television