Memorial Ethics, Part Two: The Betrayal of 9-11 Donors

Where's the money going? Sometimes the charity has no idea.

A decade later after the attack on the Twin Towers, an Associated Press investigation has revealed wide-spread incompetence, dishonesty and waste among the many 9-11 memorial charities set up in the wake of the tragedy.

“There are those that spent huge sums on themselves, those that cannot account for the money they received, those that have few results to show for their spending and those that have yet to file required income tax returns. Yet many of the charities continue to raise money in the name of Sept. 11,” reports the AP. Among the fiascos recounted in the report:

  •   An Arizona-based charity raised $713,000 for a 9/11 memorial quilt that was supposed to be big enough to cover 25 football fields. Instead, there are only several hundred decorated sheets packed in boxes at a storage unit. One-third of the money raised went to the charity’s founder and relatives, according to tax records and interviews. Charity founder Kevin Held spent more than $170,000 of the donated money on travel since 2004, seldom traveling without his two Alaskan malamute dogs.  He also ran up $36,691 in credit card and bank charges since 2005 and $10,460 for an expense listed as “petty” in 2009. Held gave himself a $200 per week car allowance, rent reimbursement and a $45,000 payment for an unreported loan. Quizzed by AP reporters, Held’s jaw-dropping answer to all this was, . “If I made a mistake, I made a mistake. If I did, then crucify me. I never said I was a professional at this.”
  •  A charity for a 9/11 Garden of Forgiveness at the World Trade Center site has raised $200,000, but there is no Garden of Forgiveness, and isn’t likely to be. The Rev. Lyndon Harris, who founded the nonprofit in 2005, said he formed the charity to fulfill “our sacred oath” to build the garden. Tax records show that the Episcopal priest paid himself $126,530 in salary and used another $3,562 for dining expenses between 2005 and 2007.

Harris’s explanation is as amazing as Held’s.  He told the AP that he sees his charity’s work as a success even if there is no garden at the site. “I saw our mission as teaching about forgiveness,” he said.

As in “forgive us for stealing your money under false pretenses,” perhaps?

  •  Urban Life Ministries, another Manhattan 9/11 charity, raised more than $4 million for victims and first responders but only accounted for about $670,000 on its tax returns. Along with almost four dozen other 9/11 charities, Urban Life lost its IRS tax-exempt status this year because it failed to show how funds were collected and spent. The charity’s creator, the Rev. Carl Keyes, an Assemblies of God minister, acknowledged that his organization did not file taxes for all years but insists that it means well, and hopes the nonprofit’s efforts in response to 9/11 and its later charity work after Hurricane Katrina won’t be tainted by his bad accounting.

“You’re going to beat me up in an article because we’re bad managers?” Keyes asked the AP, plaintively.

Yes, Reverend, and you deserve every bit of it. In charity, as in all other pursuits, undertaking a task that you are unfit to manage is irresponsible and unethical, and accepting money, no matter how noble the purpose, without knowing how to use it and account for it properly while failing to meet the charity’s goals is a terrible breach of trust.

But Rev. Keyes had lots of company. In virtually every category of 9/11 nonprofit,  the AP analysis of tax documents and other official records revealed lies, schemes, ineptitude,  shady dealings, questionable expenses, sloppy record-keeping and deceit.  The fact that many of those responsible  had good intentions (though many did not) should not shield them from legal consequences. Charitable funds are precious, and the trust that charities engender is fragile, easily destroyed by charlatans and incompetents. Misusing and mismanaging donations  betrays the cause, the donors, and charity itself.

16 thoughts on “Memorial Ethics, Part Two: The Betrayal of 9-11 Donors

  1. Nice job posting utter garbage. You should be ashamed to attack Carl Keyes. He was personally involved saying the last words over 100+ victims found in the wreckage of the WTC. He moved his family within blocks so they assist in every effort possible. Glad Tidings stands just two blocks from WTC and has been a huge force to serve the rescuers and provide counseling after 9/11. He personally destroyed his own finances to help anyone affected who walked into Glad Tidings. So good job in reprinting alarmist garbage and attacking one of the good guys.

    • I didn’t say he wasn’t a good guy. He still doesn’t know how to run a charity, he still wasted money, and the fact that he feels bad about it and tried to make it right is beside the point. The point is: don’t lead people to trust that you know what you’re doing when you don’t know what you’re doing. Good guys do a lot of damage in the world, and he is one. So are you, in fact.. You let people off the hook when they screw up because they meant well. It’s not an excuse, and well-meaning mess-ups make it harder for competent charities to raise funds.

      You also write nonsense. What does saying the last words over 100+ victims found in the wreckage of the WTC have to do with proper stewardship of donor funds. Nothing. Your comment is simply translated as “kill the messenger.” Which is, of course, dumb.

  2. You are correct. It was “dumb” to try and even bother with this. I usually leave comments alone but felt it was important to point out the service to New York City and its community that Carl Keyes has provided. I would think someone that totes your “Ethics” would have the respect not to lump Carl Keyes in with other charities ”lies, schemes, ineptitude, shady dealings, questionable expenses, sloppy record-keeping and deceit”. You also failed to mention that Urban Life Ministries, Glad Tidings or Carl Keyes himself are not under any investigation.

  3. Well, Josh, you should probably bone up on what ethics means, and you won’t get so frustrated. (You might consider a style more direct than sarcasm, too.) Carl’s charity fits under the categories of “ineptitude and sloppy record-keeping.” Being incompetent isn’t always, or even usually, criminal, and I didn’t suggest he was criminal—though if he were, many of same results would have been evident. Whether he is under investigation or not doesn’t matter to the issue at hand—he promised what he couldn’t deliver, and didn’t have the skills to justify the trust he induced others to place in him. If you can at least comprehend that—and that doing this is wrong— at least you’re learned something, and my day is a success.

  4. Jack–how can you say that Carl Keyes “promised what he couldn’t deliver, and didn’t have the skills to justify the trust he induced others to place in him” based on nothing more than some sloppy reporting? What couldn’t he deliver exactly? A financial accounting to a reporter to whom he has no obligation to provide financial statements to? Do you provide your financial statements to any Tom, Dick or Harry who asks to see them?

    The AP Article obviously had many inaccurate facts in it. Anyone who googles Carl Keyes can see that he never actually raised any money. It’s on the very first page of google-a press release from October 2001. I’m sick and tired of reporters who have nothing better to do than start a fake scandal and write garbage without checking their facts. Did anyone ever stop to think that MAYBE Rev. Keyes was busy providing support to 9/11 relief workers around the clock, and that this is why the Charity’s paperwork was sloppy? Many other for-profit corporations and individuals are behind with their IRS filings-but the AP doesn’t scandalize them! Oh no-it is better to start a false alarm and try to ruin a good man’s reputation. Not surprising. Any reporter worth their salt would’ve investigated the facts before distributing such trash. Just goes to show you there aren’t many competent reporters out there.

    • The AP story was published by most major news organizations, and was not labeled “sloppy reporting.” I have not seen a correction from AP. I am not a journalist, and rely on press reports, like most commentators. If what you say is true, send me the documentation, and I’ll correct it. I have no idea who you are; I do know the AP doesn’t (usually) make up stories. Not filing timely IRS reports for any charity is suspicious. I’m sick of charities that use tragedies to raise money without the resources or expertise to account for it. It happens a lot. If Mr. Keyes was wrongly identified as doing this by the AP, and I relied on its report, I’ll address that. Mr. Keyes was not the subject of my post, but rather the syndrome his charity represents, as the AP reported.

      Protests don’t prove anything. Point me to some facts that contradict the AP.

  5. I am sorry that you chose to believe a secular, liberal, news reporter instead of contacting Carl Keyes and just asking whether or not the article was true. You know, minister to minister. he happens to be one of the finest people you will ever meet. The reporter twisted words and wrote lies. Truth. Approx $2.5M came in for 9/11 and $2.5 was accounted for. $670,000 of donations came in 2001 and the same was filed with NY Attorney General and if the reporter would have looked at the 2002 filing he would have seen that we received the $1.8M balance then. Both years had an Independent audit, which is required by NY State. This is just a sample of the anti-Christian slant written by this person, who is more interested in a story than the truth. For the whole story, just contact Carl.

    • Nice guy Carl sicced a “reputation repair” hack on me, who send completely non-substantive comments without any substantiated facts (as have you) and who sent me threatening e-mails. I don’t trust him, I don’t think he’s a fine person based on that experience, and yes, I’ll believe a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter over someone who hires a an internet thug to try to intimidate me. I don’t see what “secular” has to do with anything here. For all I know, you’re one of the reputation thugs too. I contacted the reporter, who said he had proper documentation of what he wrote. I contacted the paper’s ombudsman, who said there was no reason to believe the report was false .

      • Jack why don’t you call the Attorney General of the State of New York who has reviewed this and determined that Carl Keyes did nothing wrong. In fact I have suggested two “reputation repair” hacks to Carl to help undo the nasty damage of your so called expert Pulitzer prize reporter and Carl refused believing that people like you would eventually see the truth. Your hero reporter gained all his valuable insight to Carl in a 4 minute interview over the phone. When the reporter was asked to prove the allegation his response was to say he had a 1st amendment right say whatever he wanted to. Great reporter. For a so-called expert on “Ethics” you choose to trust the Pulitzer Prize writer who joins the ranks of Janet Cooke, Jorie Graham, and Peter Sacks. The people above who have contacted you regarding this are friends and supporters of Carl watching in frustration as uniformed individuals such as yourself speak without researching the issue.

        • Send me the information and data, Josh, if it exists. I doubt that the reporter’s response was what you say it was, but as I said before: show me the confirmation that you claim exists (you also, falsely, claimed that the “facts” were easily available on Google) and I will eagerly retract the article and publicly call out the reporter and the AP. I can’t be fairer than that. I am not a reporter, and I write ethics analysis based on the public record in the media. The post was not about Carl, but about incompetent charities. My offer stands…I’ll revisit the issue when I have reliable material to do sonot the Rev.,’s self-serving statements, not your unsupported assertions, and not threats. It’s a fair and reasonable offer. As of now, I have the uncorrected, unretracted, AP story by a reliable source, vs your unsubstantiated claims, bolstered by the fact that you have lied to me twice and threatened me.

          Your next communication had better include a link to real, reliable information, or be a file e-mailed or sent to me.Otherwise, it isn’t seeing the light of day. If you cannot access and produce this material that you claim is so clear and convincing, then I will regard that as confirmation of the AP story.

  6. THIS IS YOU: “The AP story was published by most major news organizations, and was not labeled “sloppy reporting.” ”

    I BEG TO DIFFER – IF YOU ARE A MAN OF INTEGRITY – YOU WILL PUBLISH THIS AND FORWARD IT TO ALL THOSE HEREIN THAT CONTACTED YOU ABOUT KEYES! PLEASE DO THE RIGHT THING.

    (EXAMPLE 1) People Believe What They Read or Hear – True or Not

    Ultimately, people have a tendency to believe what they read. On December 28th, 1917, H.L. Mencken, a journalist working for the New York Evening Mail, published an article celebrating the anniversary of the bathtub. The article detailed how the first bathtubs had been introduced in the United States in 1842 and had been composed chiefly of mahogany and lead. The article also described how bathtubs were not well accepted by society until Millard Fillmore had one installed in the White House in 1850. The problem is that none of this was true in the slightest. This did not stop the article from being reprinted in newspapers all over the United States, referenced by textbooks, cited by encyclopedias, and finding its way into the social psyche. Even today, the article can be found being referenced in magazine articles, books, and even a January 2008 Kia commercial. “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get it’s boots on” is a quote that is often attributed to Mark Twain or Winston Churchill, but was actually first recorded by Charles Spurgeon, who called it an old proverb. Even in a quote describing how people believe what they read or hear, there is an example of too many people believing what they read or hear about who said it—such is the pervasiveness of the problem. Hopefully you can see why it is vital that companies, individuals, and organizations make sure that what people are reading about them is the truth.
    ———————————————-
    (EXAMPLE 2) People Believe What They Read or Hear – True or Not

    Last January, 2011 several media organizations erroneously reported that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died after being shot in the head during a public event in Arizona. SHE DIDN’T! In this day and age, getting it first often conflicts with getting it right.
    ———————————————

    (EXAMPLE 3) Joe Paterno death rumors: Penn State’s ‘Onward’ editor resigns after error.

    VT : USA |
    Jan 22, 2012 at 4:11 AM PST
    By Samantha86

    The managing editor of Penn State’s student run website ‘Onward State’ stepped down after the website incorrectly reported that Joe Paterno had died Joe Paterno is in critical condition, but earlier rumors had started circulating that he had passed away. These rumors had started circulating after Penn State’s website Onward had wrongly reported that the university’s former coach, Joe Paterno had passed away. The website had later admitted that the news was false and it apologized to everyone for the error. After the fiasco, the managing editor of Onward stepped down and apologized for the blunder.

    The reports indicating that Joe Paterno was dead, caused an online frenzy after CBS Sports ran with the story, without confirming the news and trusting the Onward State site. After the news story ran, a family spokesman told the New York Times that the reports ‘were absolutely not true’. After the rumors surfaced, Paterno’s two sons also took to Twitter to deny these reports. Joe Paterno’s sons Scott and Jay said on Twitter that their father, who has been admitted in the hospital since 13th January, was in ‘serious condition’ and ‘continuing to fight’ in his battle against lung cancer and that he was not dead.

    The Penn State players had been notified of Joe Paterno’s death via email, but the website later sent an apology to all the players via Twitter which said; “We were confident when we ran with it, and are still trying to figure out where our process failed. We apologize sincerely for error.”

    After this incident, the managing editor, Devon Edwards, released an apologetic statement saying that he would be stepping down effective immediately. In the statement it was said; “I take full responsibility for the events that transpired tonight, and for the black mark upon the organization that I have caused. I never, in a million years, would have thought that Onward State would be cited by the national media, and today, I sincerely wish it never had been.”

    “To all those who read and passed along our reports, I sincerely apologize for misleading you. To the Penn State community and to the Paterno family most of all, I could not be more sorry for the emotional anguish I am sure we caused. There are no excuses for what we did. We all make mistakes, but it’s impossible to brush off one of this magnitude. Right now, we deserve all of the criticism headed our way,” Edwards wrote.
    Samantha86 is based in New York City, New York, United States of America, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.

    Report Credibility

    READ MORE: Joe Paterno, joe paterno death rumors, joe paterno health condition, Joe Paterno Penn State, joe paterno dead, joe paterno luncg cancer, CBS Sports, Penn State, joe paterno health

    More News From:Alburg : VT : USA
    —————————————-
    (EAMPLE 4) EXAMPLE 4 MOST CONFLICTS WITH YOUR STATEMENT. People Believe What They Read or Hear – True or Not

    Most recently, CBSSports.com ran a photo of Joe Paterno on January 21, 2012 with a caption saying the longtime Penn State coach “loses his battle with lung cancer at 85.” The incredible inaccuracy here was that Mr. Paterno did not pass away until January 22, 2012. The blurb did not include the source of the information.

    In an apology, CBSSports.com said the mistake “was the result of a failure to verify the original report, original report being Penn State Universities Website “Onward State.” CBSSports.com holds itself to high journalistic standards, and in this circumstance tonight, we fell well short of those expectations.”

    That is EXACTLY what happened, they did, but the damage was already done for the family and friends of Joe Paterno!

    In this day and age, getting it first often conflicts with getting it right.

  7. It seems that the big stink here is that Carl is to be defame by writers like you because as you say, he didn’t know the first thing about running a charity. Well, you know what, that’s true, he didn’t. It was never his intention to run a charity. That wasn’t was he was about at all. Allow me to tell you who he was. He was a first responder. He was the guy running toward a tragedy while the rest of us ran and people like you wrote about it. He was nothing less than a hero. You say you want cold hard facts. Well I don’t know what constitutes a cold hard fact to you, but I was there. I served under his ministry. I saw the personal and public cost he endured to help people. I know of his church that he lost over half his congregation because they didn’t understand the call of a believer to minister and reach our to the lost, the hurting and the sick. I know of him opening up his facility (a 30 million dollar resource, by the way) as a command center for those who walked the grounds of 9/11 collected for months after after the attacks. This is where they stored their boots and materials after each day of recovering what remains they could. I’m sure you know how much NYC rents are so you do the math on that one. combine that with the financial loss of losing half of his tithing members, the price he paid to pay for helping was high. I saw him counsel hundreds of victims and first responders through the tragedy. I saw his health deteriorate because of the fumes he inhaled on a daily basis. The FDNY workers kept telling him to wear his mask but the people he counseled had a hard time hearing him so he never wore it. I also was with him long enough to verify that he was not a gifted accountant, but of course, he never denied that. However, he did NOT betray anyone. Those who donated to his work were not investing in a charity but him as a man. Speaking for myself, if I had to opportunity and ability to financially support him and his efforts, I would, without question. He is a man of the highest integrity and you are barking up the wrong tree. Trust me, the real story behind this man and his ministry is much better than the one you wrote but it requires more than just reading the associated press. I don’t expect any of this to satisfy your accusations but I do believe your readers deserve a different perspective. To you, he is merely a target to be exploited. To me, he is a hero and friend. I am honored to have the opportunity to stand up for his integrity.

    All the best.

    • This all may be true. I’m assuming it is. Unfortunately, one cannot set up charities—non-profits, with non-profit tax deductions, used by donors who get benefits from the IRS for their contributions—for the benefit of individuals, no matter how noble and courageous they are. Carl’s virtue doesn’t change the fact that he cannot set up a charity to “invest in him as a man”, legally or ethically, and your statement that Carl did not know how to run a charity, as I wrote, ends the argument. If you don’t know how to run a charity, it’s unethical to start one. The stories about what a fine man he is are impressive and informative, but they don’t change a thing. Not a thing.

    • Thanks for this. The good minister sicced a “reputation cleaner” on my site and threatened law suits if I didn’t take down the “slander.” I told him to show me verified evidence that the press reports of his mishandling of contributions were false, and I would make appropriate corrections. He said, “fine,” and I haven’t heard a word for a year.

  8. I found your blog because I was googling for postings on “disaster relief fraud.” (I am a victim.) Before finding what you posted regarding Mr. Keys, I read others are more recent than yours, such as this one:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/carl-keyes-911-charity-nyc-minister-millions_n_1908936.html

    I was surprised to see such disapproval for what you shared –also, why people only wanted to see one side of the facts, even though I’ve experienced similar. Hopefully –although it’s frustrating to be attacked for reporting facts easily verifiable– unlike those of us victims, you can take heart in the fact that you did not keep silent. I have discovered that most of the people who rush to defend religious fraudsters have received some type of benefit.

    The other problem with people who get angry with reports about unlawful actions by so-called religious people, is that people refuse to consider that the acts are UNLAWFUL. It doesn’t matter whether the acts were committed with intent to do wrong, it matters that it violated established law. In the same way that a vehicle accident might not be intentional, laws require ACCOUNTABILITY. Whether or not Keys did good deeds (to bring finances and praise to Keys & family?)), if Keys and his allies broke certain laws, others were harmed by those violations!

    Seemingly, our nation is in the shape that it is in, because all that evil needs in order to thrive is for good people to do nothing. Not enough ‘good people’ speak up for what’s right, instead of speaking up for people their fond of, notwithstanding harmful conduct.

    Please continue calling attention to ethical matters –and thanks for taking the heat for doing so, while not hiding behind a scene name.

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