Solicitors with a Suffolk County fundraising company pretended to be detectives, printed up unauthorized police shields for potential donors, and used other misleading tactics to raise money for police-related nonprofits they contracted with, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
Suffolk Productions Inc. in Copiague was one of four professional fundraising firms targeted by Cuomo's office after a six-month investigation in which the attorney general sent undercover officers to infiltrate the companies.
"They're defrauding people on the other end of the phone," Cuomo said of the fundraising firms. "These are telemarketers that raise a significant amount of money." He said other such firms are being investigated and he expected to take more legal action against them.
The companies raised money for organizations related to police causes and unions, as well as other non-police charities.
In the case of Suffolk Productions, it raised money for 10 clients over three years, including the Police Athletic Team of Suffolk County; Crime Stoppers of Suffolk County, a nonprofit that raises reward money for tips; the New York State Park Police union, and the New York Association of Chiefs of Police.
The companies had contracts to raise funds on behalf of their clients. The nonprofits received on average about a quarter of what the companies raised; the rest went to the fundraisers.
According to Cuomo, Suffolk Productions workers engaged in deceptive practices such as introducing themselves as detectives when picking up donations from businesses. They also offered unauthorized medallions and plaques that, they said, would allow potential donors to curry favor with police officers if they were pulled over on traffic violations, the complaint said.
Deborah Cromarty, owner of Suffolk Productions, said her company has been in business since 1961, and neither she nor her workers engage in fraudulent practices.
"I'm as surprised as anybody about this," said Cromarty, who added that her company only solicits from businesses, not individuals. "This has never, ever come up before and I still am not clear about why it's come up now."
The four companies - Suffolk Productions Inc., Caring People Enterprises Inc. and Marketing Squad Inc., both of Rochester, and Stage Door Music Productions Inc. in Waterbury, Conn. - raised $16 million in the past three years for charity. Suffolk Productions alone raised about $3 million during that time.
The Associated Press reported that no one answered the telephone yesterday at a number listed for Caring People. Messages left by The AP for managers at Marketing Squad, and Stage Door Music Productions weren't immediately returned.
Cuomo said his office targeted the four companies because of complaints it had received.
At a hearing in Riverhead Wednesday, state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson issued a partial temporary restraining order against Suffolk Productions, which stops it from selling its assets or destroying documents.
A hearing on whether the company can continue operating is set for Wednesday.
"The allegations made by the attorney general's office are baseless and without merit, and we're confident that the facts will vindicate my client of any wrongdoing," said Cromarty's attorney, Vincent Ansanelli of Amityville.