Sandy Hook Charity Fraud Exposed

Most folks might find it unthinkable to exploit the murder of children. Unfortunately, others do not. But, at least sometimes they pay for their fraud. According to various media reports, a Tennessee man recently accepted a plea deal related to the theft of funds from a charity he created to supposedly help the citizens of Newtown after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre.

Man Defrauds Donors in Times of Peril

Robert Bruce won’t be in court until May, but his name is already mud as far as anyone who knows the story is concerned. Bruce faced six counts of wire fraud related to the alleged misuse of funds from the 26.4.26 Foundation, and apparently the police had the goods, so he took the plea.

Law enforcement received evidence from the co-founder of the charity, Ryan Graney, who claims Bruce failed to account for more than $70,000.

What to Do When You Suspect Fraud Within Your Organization

It can be a tough call for a charity to “out” one of its members who may be involved in a fraudulent situation. Negative publicity is sure to follow, so if you don’t carefully manage the messaging, your work’s name will be unfairly tarnished.

However, in these situations, it’s almost impossible not to bring the issue to the police. Graney could not allow Bruce to steal from the company, and those funds needed to be found, so involving the police was a necessary step.

Be Prepared with PR Professionals

In that situation, it’s vital for a brand – public or private, for or not-for-profit – to have a detailed PR plan to manage what comes next. Once the arrest hits the PIO circuit, news agencies will be calling and, in most cases, just showing up at your offices. The wrong sound bite from the wrong employee or volunteer could make the whole matter much worse.

Further, a proactive messaging campaign is necessary. It’s important for the charity to tell everyone that only one person is to blame here. That neither the charity nor other leadership was involved in the wrongdoing and that leadership acted quickly and decisively to protect their organization and the good it’s doing.  In these situations, you can never do too much to reassure nervous donors as well as curious media while also distancing yourself from the “bad guy.”

David Milberg is an investment banker from NYC.

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