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Solicitor ordered to stop telemarketing

December 27, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The director of a company that has been soliciting donations in Washington County was ordered by the Federal Trade Commission in May not to telemarket for six charities she ran, a Hagerstown City Police detective said Friday.

County residents have been contacted by solicitors for the Firefighters Assistance Fund, which is run by Tamara Bell, of Anaheim, Calif., Det. Tammy Jurado said.

Jurado said another company run by Bell, the American Veterans' Council, may also be soliciting donations in the county.

A U.S. District Court judge signed on May 21 an order sought by the FTC barring Bell and anyone working for her from misrepresenting themselves by telemarketing in connection to charities.

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"This isn't legitimate," Jurado said about the contacts made in Washington County. "The bad thing is, this discourages people from donating to reputable agencies."

Bell didn't return phone messages left Friday at her home.

According to an FTC complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Bell ran the Firefighters' Assistance Foundation, the American Veterans' Council and four other companies: Children's AIDS Council, Children's Relief Services, Disabled Children's Charity and Police and Sheriff's Support Fund.

According to the complaint, the companies were "sham nonprofits created and controlled by unscrupulous fundraisers for their personal profit."

The complaint said the companies were started in 2001, and over time people around the country "sent millions of dollars to these non-profits. The programs were mere phantoms, however ... ."

Jurado said at least one county resident has recently donated money to the Firefighters Assistance Fund, and another county resident said this week she had been contacted by the fund, but did not donate to it after a firefighter she knew said money was not going to a local charity.

The Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association - the organization that represents local emergency departments - also said this week it is not associated with the Firefighters Assistance Fund, and none of the Washington County departments are associated with it either.

Jurado said her department was contacted by the local Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association after residents inquired about the Firefighters Assistance Fund, thinking it was connected to the local departments.

Jurado said Friday that an address on mail from the Firefighters Assistance Fund was traced to Pony Mail Box, a private mail service on Antietam Street in Hagerstown.

A manager there said a mailbox was rented by a Virginia man, and mail from Firefighters Assistance Fund and American Veterans' Council had been coming to the address.

Jurado said it is difficult for consumers to know if a telemarketer is working for a legitimate business, but suggested calling the Maryland Attorney General's Office, which investigates fraud, as a starting point.

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