Attorney General Cuomo Announces Arrest And Guilty Plea Of The Founder Of A Sham Car Donation Charity
NEW YORK, NY (July 1, 2010) - Attorney General Andrew Cuomo today announced the arrest and guilty plea of the founder of a sham car donation charity for looting over $2 million in charitable funds. Shoba Bakhsh, of Queens-based “Hope for the Disabled Kids, Inc.,” pled guilty to lying to donors and misusing funds for herself and her family. As a condition of the plea, the charity will immediately shut down. Today’s action marked the latest stage of the Attorney General’s ongoing, industry-wide investigation into car donation charities.
Hope for the Disabled Kids took in thousands of cars and had more than $2 million in revenue between the charity’s founding in 2001 and 2009. When soliciting donors, Bakhsh promised that over 90% of donations would go to help disabled children. However, no funds were used for any legitimate charitable purposes from 2007 to 2009. No records were produced to prove that funds were used for legitimate purposes prior to 2007 because Bakhsh destroyed documents and filed false paperwork.
“This individual manipulated donors and exploited children with serious medical needs in order to enrich herself and her family,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “As a result of her actions, millions of dollars that should have gone to help disabled children were instead spent on department store bills and real estate. As our investigation continues, my office encourages New Yorkers to be generous and informed donors.”
On its Web site, Hope for the Disabled Kids claimed that:
- Funds will “be utilized to benefit disabled children by purchasing medical equipment;”
- Funds will “help pay for medical expenses for families who are unable to afford [them];”
- Funds will “purchase books, toys, games and food during the holidays to distribute to children in hospitals.”
Instead, Bakhsh spent funds donated to Hope for the Disabled Kids on herself and her family, including:
- Close to $500,000 in connection with the purchase of real estate in Florida and payments of real estate taxes on properties owned by Bakhsh and her husband;
- Payments on two different Macy’s credit card accounts;
- School tuition for Bakhsh’s children;
- Additionally, Bakhsh’s personal checking account received cash deposits of nearly $250,000 between 2007 and 2009. During this period, she supposedly had no employment other than her job at Hope for the Disabled Kids, which reported paying her less than $50,000 per year.
Hope for the Disabled Kids solicited the donation of vehicles through print advertising outlets and its Web site. Bakhsh and Hope for the Disabled Kids intentionally made false representations about the charity in order to trick people into donating their vehicles, including saying that more than 90% of the proceeds from the sales of donated vehicles would be spent on children in need. Bakhsh also posted forged testimonials on the charity’s Web site that made it seem that it had made legitimate contributions to hospitals and health care facilities.
Bakhsh, of South Ozone Park, Queens, pled guilty in New York County Supreme Court to one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (class E felony) and two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree (class E felony). As a condition of the plea, Hope for the Disabled Kids, Inc. will immediately shut down. Bakhsh is also forbidden from serving on the board or as an officer of a not-for-profit and from being employed at any entity engaged in the car donation industry. Bakhsh is expected to be sentenced on September 23, 2010 by the Honorable Michael Obus. The Attorney General’s office will be seeking penalties from Bakhsh at that time.
Charities involved in the car donation industry solicit contributions in the form of used vehicles, which they then sell to raise funds for humanitarian causes. Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing, industry-wide investigation into car donation charities has shown that some charities mislead donors about how much money is used for charitable purposes as well as where the money goes. In some cases, the car donation charity is a complete sham, with little or no money going to the causes the charity purports to support.
As part of the investigation, the Attorney General recently sent subpoenas to sixteen charities, fundraisers, and individuals seeking materials relating to the funds that charities and for-profit fundraisers have collected through car donation programs. Cuomo also sued to shut down a sham car donation charity, Feed the Hungry, Inc., for misusing funds meant for the homeless.
Today’s action is part of Attorney General Cuomo’s ongoing initiative to fight charitable fundraising scams and to safeguard donors:
- In June 2010, the Attorney General secured a permanent injunction against the United Homeless Organization that shut the group down for deceiving donors;
- In April 2010, the Attorney General sued to shut down a fake Long Island-based breast cancer charity, Coalition for Breast Cancer Cures, Inc., for misusing over $500,000;
- In January 2010, the Attorney General sued to shut down four professional fundraising companies that used fraudulent and deceptive practices;
- In November 2009, the Attorney General released his annual “Pennies for Charity” report, which shows the percentage of donations collected by charities that go to professional fundraisers as opposed to charitable purposes.
For more information on making vehicle donations, or to report an instance of charitable solicitation fraud, New Yorkers are encouraged to contact the Attorney General’s office at www.ag.ny.gov or www.charitiesnys.com or by calling (212) 416-8402.
The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Nathan Reilly and Risa Sugarman, under the supervision of Special Deputy Chief of Staff Mitra Hormozi. The investigation was handled by Investigator Gerard Matheson, with the assistance of Analyst Kayla Arslanian.