SEATTLE – Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced lawsuits against Veterans of Western Washington, Blind Children Services of Puget Sound and four individuals connected with those organizations.
"The defendants, most of whom live in Snohomish County, illegally solicited donations under numerous names even after the Secretary of State’s Office canceled their registrations," McKenna said. "Washington law requires that charities register with the Secretary of State and provide certain financial records so consumers can learn more about how their donations will be spent before deciding to contribute."
The Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division filed two suits Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court, seeking orders to stop the defendants from soliciting in Washington. The office is also requesting penalties of up to $2,000 per violation as permitted by the Consumer Protection Act and restitution for any consumers who may have given money to the unregistered charities.
Robert Melbourne Shay, also known as R.M. Fuka, of Edmonds, is a defendant in both cases. Michael Joseph Shay, of Edmonds, and Marcello Manuel Graniel, of Guam, are charged in connection with the Veterans of Western Washington suit. Darin Anthony Dewitt, of Everett, is charged in connection with the case against Blind Children Services.
"The Shays and Graniel have a long history of soliciting charitable contributions in Washington," said Senior Counsel Shannon Smith. "They’ve assumed a plethora of identities related to causes that would appear to benefit veterans, children and domestic violence victims. Many of the charities they solicited for were not registered with the state. They also claimed to represent organizations they weren’t affiliated with."
The three are involved in Veterans of Western Washington. Graniel was the organization’s president from at least July 2002 until Dec. 18, 2005, during which time the organization operated as a nonprofit corporation. Immediately thereafter, it began operating as a sole proprietorship in Lynnwood and is owned by Robert Shay and Michael Shay.
Prior to forming Veterans of Western Washington in 2002, they solicited donations under the name Washington State Veterans League. Washington State Veterans League failed to renew its charitable organization registration, prompting the Secretary of State’s Office to cancel its registration on Dec. 17, 2002.
The state’s suit charges Veterans of Western Washington, the Shays and Graniel with violating the state’s Charitable Solicitations Act and Consumer Protection Act. They are accused of soliciting donations without registering with the Secretary of State, misrepresenting charities are registered, soliciting contributions under the names of other entities, failing to provide required disclosures to potential donors, and failing to maintain required financial records.
The Attorney General’s Office alleges the defendants solicited donations as recently as April 2006, even though the Secretary of State canceled Veterans of Western Washington’s charitable organization registration on Oct. 26, 2004. The registration was revoked because the defendants solicited donations under other names that had not been registered with the state, including Children’s Cancer Alliance, Hospitalized Children’s Society and Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
They also are accused of solicited donations under the names Family Services of Puget Sound and Handicapped Children’s Services. Smith said those organizations were already registered with the Secretary of State’s Office but were in no way connected to the defendants.
The Attorney General’s Office served a subpoena on Veterans of Western Washington, the Shays and Graniel in May 2005, requesting copies of certain financial records. The Shays claimed they had no such records.
The other suit brings charges against Blind Children Services of Puget Sound; its sole proprietor, Dewitt; and Robert Shay, who manages the organization’s finances. They are accused of soliciting donations without registering with the Secretary of State, misrepresenting charities are registered, and failing to provide required disclosures to potential donors.
Blind Children Services of Puget Sound has conducted business from several addresses in Lynnwood. The organization was also authorized to solicit donations using the names Abandoned Children’s Foundation, American Blind Children’s Council, Handicapped Children’s Outreach, and several related names.
Blind Children Services of Puget Sound was registered as a charity in Washington from April 9, 2003, until May 6, 2005, when the Secretary of State’s Office canceled the registration because the organization failed to renew. The Attorney General’s Office alleges the defendants continued to solicit donations until at least March 2006.
Consumers who were solicited for donations by Veterans of Western Washington or Blind Children Services of Puget Sound can file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.atg.wa.gov or call 1-800-551-4636.
To confirm that a charity is registered in Washington, call the Secretary of State’s Charities Information Hotline at (800) 332-4483 or search online at www.secstate.wa.gov/charities.
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Media Contacts: Senior Counsel Shannon Smith, (206) 389-3996
Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, (206) 464-6432