New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (May 13, 2011)

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (May 13, 2011) Credit: ag.ny.gov

An organization purporting to be a Long Island breast cancer charity collected $9.1 million in the last five years, but executives used it as "a personal cash machine" and spent little of the money on charitable programs, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleged in a complaint filed Tuesday.

The St. James-based Coalition Against Breast Cancer spent less than 4 percent of the $9.1 million, or $364,000, on breast cancer services and research programs, according to the complaint, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Suffolk County. The group spent most of its money on fundraising, Schneiderman's office said.

The people running the charity, who had other jobs, used it "as a personal piggy bank to subsidize their lifestyles," paying themselves salaries and providing themselves with retirement benefits, health benefits and BlackBerry cellphones, Schneiderman said in the complaint.

 

Details of AG's complaint

Schneiderman charged the group, along with the for-profit fundraiser Campaign Center Inc. of Lindenhurst and key personnel, with violations of state not-for-profit and charitable solicitation laws. The suit aims to shut down the group, force its directors to make restitution and distribute funds to other charities.

"By using a charity as a personal cash machine, the Coalition Against Breast Cancer and Campaign Center shamelessly exploited New Yorkers' natural sympathies and generosity," Schneiderman said in a news release. "Instead of benefiting breast cancer victims and their families, millions of dollars were misused for personal benefit."

Schneiderman alleges that the nonprofit's treasurer, Andrew Smith of Aquebogue, and the fundraising company's owner, Garrett Morgan of West Islip, launched the organization and its fundraising program together in 1995 and used it as a cash machine.

 

Where some funds went

In 2009, the organization gave out $57,481 in grants, less than the $73,500 salary of its director of development, Debra Koppleman, according to tax filings. That year, the organization raised $1.5 million while spending $1.1 million on fundraising. The charity has been run out of Koppleman's St. James house, which is owned by Smith. Smith, Koppleman and Patricia Scott of Manhattan, the president of the organization, were named in the suit.

The organization, at Smith's behest in 2008, illegally loaned him $105,000, which he then lost by investing in Agape World, a Long Island Ponzi scheme that collapsed a year later, the complaint stated.

A person answering the phone at the Coalition Against Breast Cancer identified himself as Smith and hung up when reached by a reporter. Morgan declined to comment. Koppleman and Scott could not be reached.

 

Charity experts weigh in

"It's just a complete horror," said Hillary Rutter, executive director of Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Hotline and Support Program. Legitimate programs struggle to raise money to provide free services to women with breast cancer, she said. "Here's an organization that's calling people and making millions of dollars and . . . not helping people with breast cancer."

The suit alleges that the fundraising company was keeping 85 cents of every dollar it raised.

Laurie Styron, an analyst at the American Institute of Philanthropy, which rates charities online at charitywatch.org, said top-rated charities spend 75 percent or more of their revenue on their programs and that fundraising expenses should cost 25 cents on the dollar or less. The institute gave the Coalition Against Breast Cancer its lowest rating, an "F."

"In this case, just based on the face value of their reporting, we didn't need to look that deeply at it to tell that they weren't doing a whole lot for the cause," Styron said.

The organization has no connection with the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer.

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