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Colorado non-profit out of business after military phone card scam

December 28, 2018 - 3:23 pm

By Julia LeDoux

A Colorado-based non-profit that accepted donations which it said would be used to purchase paid phone cards for vets and their families has been ordered by a Minnesota court to shutter its doors.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that TREA, The Retired Enlisted Association, must cough up more than $400,000. The money will be distributed to legitimate veterans groups in the state after the Minnesota Attorney General’s office found it had fraudulently collected the money.

According to a statement from Minnesota AG Lori Swanson, the Centennial, Colorado-company collected hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years but never purchased a single phone card.

Swanson’s spokesman, Ben Wogsland, said the company has 60 days to distribute the money to vets groups and 90 days to shut down. Wogsland said that Minnesota is the first state to prevail in court over TREA, which he added raised at least $14 million nationwide between 2012 and 2017. Of that amount, Minnesotans donated $345,000 as a result of mailings sent out by professional fundraiser Jeremy Squire and Associates. Most of the money collected went to the fundraiser.

The newspaper reports that no phone cards were distributed after 2014 and that TREA’s total spending on phone cards from 2014 to 2017 was less than 0.9 percent of the nearly $9 million of collected donations.

TREA Memorial Foundation Chairman Thomas Liebaert signed the settlement. In a written statement, TREA said it became a party to the settlement so its remaining funds could be used to fulfill its mission of helping vets and their families, instead of paying legal costs.

Minnesota is home to more than 330,000 veterans.

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