Tacoma judge calls Michael Friedmann’s scam “deceptive” and “abusive”
TACOMA — A Pierce County Superior Court judge ordered a charity that deceptively claimed to help veterans to pay a total of nearly $1 million in restitution and financial penalties. The sham charity’s sole officer, Michael Friedmann, told consumers and donors their donations would benefit veterans and their families when none of the money raised did.
In her order, Judge Elizabeth Martin specifically noted the “deceptive” and “abusive” conduct by Fallen Hero Bracelets and Friedmann, who falsely held himself out as a military veteran. She said he and his company unquestionably violated the Consumer Protection Act 1,240 times and also violated the Charitable Solicitations Act tens of thousands of times. The judge permanently prohibited Friedmann from nearly all activity in the charity and nonprofit sectors. He is also banned from forming for-profit business entities in the state and cannot register, own, manage or operate any e-commerce site. Friedmann did not appear before the court when the judge imposed the penalties.
The court ordered $504,000 in restitution. The office was able to identify 51 affected consumers who filed complaints to organizations such as the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Just over $13,000 will go to those consumers harmed by Friedmann’s conduct. Because Friedmann did not respond to any requests for information to identify additional customers as part of this lawsuit, leading to this default judgment, the court ordered the remaining restitution be paid to charities, honoring donors’ intent. The Attorney General’s Office will receive nearly $491,000 of that money to send to non-profits and charities that assist military families or law enforcement who died in the line of duty.
The court ordered an additional $322,000 in civil penalties that will go to the Washington state general fund. Friedmann must also pay nearly $169,000 in attorney costs and fees.
In November 2018, Ferguson sued Spanaway-based Fallen Hero Bracelets asserting that they misled customers into believing their purchases were benefiting veterans’ charities like ones for separated families, service animals or children’s scholarships. Further, when consumers and donors asked Friedmann where their items were or questioned him, he then would verbally abuse them or threaten them.
“Michael Friedmann used the service of our country’s bravest to personally profit,” Ferguson said. “When anyone questioned him, he verbally abused then sued several of them. My office took him to court for his illegal activities and we won for Washington’s veterans and consumers.”
This lawsuit was part of Operation Donate with Honor, a nationwide sweep coordinated in 2018 by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of State Charities Officials. In the sweep, Ferguson and Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman joined officials from around the country to combat veterans’ fundraising fraud through education and enforcement.
The lawsuit is also part of the Military and Veterans Initiative, Ferguson’s longtime effort to support and educate military service members and veterans about their rights and the resources available to them.
Fallen Hero Bracelets deceived consumers about helping veterans
Fallen Hero Bracelets sold bracelets engraved with names of soldiers killed in action, along with hats, pins, badges, coins and pens. Its now-defunct website claimed it used proceeds from sales to help veterans, including providing scholarships to children of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, giving trained service dogs to soldiers suffering from severe PTSD and helping families dealing with separation and divorce.
Fallen Hero Bracelets did not provided any scholarships, trained service dogs or assistance to families, nor did it give any money to any of its 40 claimed beneficiaries. Fallen Hero Bracelets advertised that it made over 1.2 million sales worldwide between when it started in September 2015 and when the court ordered Friedmann’s businesses closed in November 2018.
In addition to not providing any money to charity, Friedmann sued customers who complained about slow delivery.
For example, a consumer in Washington bought a $40 t-shirt on Friedmann’s website. When she did not receive her purchase for more than 60 days, she complained to her credit union. Her credit union then sent a chargeback notice to Friedmann.
Friedmann eventually sent the shirt. The consumer returned it, wanting her money back. Next, Friedmann reported the customer to four different collection agencies, which promptly dropped the collection efforts after the consumer showed proof of the return. He then sued the consumer for $1,182.50 and the credit union for $5,000 in small claims court.
The Attorney General’s Office received 26 complaints concerning Fallen Hero Bracelets, almost all of which referenced the same conduct by Friedmann: delivery delays, being unable to contact Friedmann regarding order status and harassment as a result of consumers complaining or returning items.
Protect Yourself from Scam Charities
Scammers can use charities to prey on generosity. Do plenty of research before donating money. To make sure a charity is legitimate:
- Ask for detailed information about the organization, including an address, phone number and name
- Ask the organization what percentage of donations benefit the actual cause
- Check if the charity is registered with the Washington Secretary of State
Visit https://www.atg.wa.gov/legal-assistance-veterans-military-personnel for more information about services the Attorney General’s Office provides for military service members, veterans and their families in Washington state.
Visit ftc.gov/charities for more information on how to avoid charity scams.
Consumers affected by these charities’ deceptive conduct or any other charity or business, may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office at https://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org