Families: Audit Colo. massacre money

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Relatives of victims killed in the July 20 movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., want the state’s secretary of state and attorney general to investigate charities that raised money in the wake of the shootings.

In a letter delivered Tuesday to both offices, the family members, which include Scott and Kathleen Larimer of Crystal Lake, asked for an investigation into Giving First/Community First Foundation for alleged violations of the Colorado Charitable Solicitations Act.

“It is additionally requested that all persons within the state of Colorado cease and desist from using the names and photos of any victim of this shooting in the solicitation of funds or contributions, without first having obtained written permission from the victim or victim’s family,” according to the letter by the group’s attorney, Jerome Malman.

Crystal Lake native John Larimer was one of 12 people killed during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” He died protecting his girlfriend, Juleah Vojtsek of Algonquin.

Larimer, a Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class, was part of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado.

Malman said Giving First used names and pictures of those killed on its website and Facebook page to raise money without the permission of family members.

“This organization has not only used names and photographs of the deceased, but have also implied that donations made would be collected on behalf of and to provide direct assistance to families,” Malman wrote. “Giving First’s initial disbursement, in the amount of $100,000, went to 10 area nonprofits.”

In Malman’s letter, he cites Colorado law:

A person or organization commits charitable fraud if he “knowingly solicits any contribution and in aid of or in the course of such solicitation, utilizes the name or symbol of another person or organization without written authorization from such person or organization.”

Giving First so far has raise more than $5 million. A portion has been distributed.

“The families do not know what amounts were disbursed or to which nonprofits they were sent,” Malmam wrote. “They additionally do not know if these funds were used consistent with the purposes for which contributors intended. In an attempt to mitigate further victimization of those affected by this tragedy, they seek your assistance and intervention.”

The families have asked for an audit of the money raised.

“Specifically, these families request a determination as to whether funds collected for the Aurora Victim Relief Fund were commingled with the general funds of the Giving First/Community First Foundation,” Malman wrote.

Carolyn Tyler, communications director for the Colorado Attorney General, said the office was reviewing the request.

“We’re not in a position to confirm nor deny if we have an open investigation,” Tyler said.

In a statement released by the Community First Foundation, the organization said all of the money raised will continue to go to the Aurora Victim Relief Fund.

Community First also said that Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney, has been appointed to oversee distribution of the money raised for the relief fund.

Feinberg also ran the Sept. 11 relief fund, the BP oil spill settlement and the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. He recently was hired by Penn State University to settle personal injury claims related sex-abuse to former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Community First also has decided to have an independent audit of the Aurora Victim Relief Fund.

“This development has previously been announced to donors, to the news media and to the victims,” Community First said. “This audit will cover all transactions and will commence upon the distribution of the fund.”

“Community First Foundation realizes our transparency maintains faith – not only in the giving process – but also among the organizations and individuals who are the recipients of that generosity,” Community First said.

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