(WKBN) – For about two months now, we have seen multiple organizations raising money and collecting bottled water and food for the residents of East Palestine. One of those organizations is the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley. However, there is a warning from the organization.
Second Harvest believes people were misled regarding donations to the nonprofit. Executive Director Mike Iberis says The Ohio Clean Water Fund claimed to have a partnership with the nonprofit although it did not.
“We never authorized this group to raise money to be a partnership in this money, because we don’t have partnerships,” he said.
Iberis said he is frustrated over the actions taken by The Ohio Clean Water Fund, a 501(c)(4) started by Mike Peppel, a Columbiana County resident.
Peppel wouldn’t answer our questions on camera, but provided a statement. He said, in part, “We decided to register as a 501(c)(4) because it was the fastest way to start raising money. To register as a 501(c)(3) would take months to do because we would have to get registered in every state we solicit money from.”
According to the IRS, contributions to organizations like The Ohio Clean Water Fund are generally not tax deductible as charitable contributions.
“Some donated $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000 and they want that write-off,” Iberis said.
The Ohio Clean Water Fund has raised over $141,000 on its website since late February. A list shows donors that stretch as far as Florida to Idaho.
Peppel said, in part, “Digital and text fundraising is based on the idea of a rev(enue) share model where the sponsoring organization gets 15-20% of the total raised and the rest goes to fundraising costs.”
“There was a deception to raise money for East Palestine and it didn’t go there … They’re showing it went to expenses. Well, if you’re raising $140,000 and you’ve only got something like $12,000 that didn’t go to expenses, what’s that tell you?” Iberis said.
On March 23, The Ohio Clean Water Fund gave a cashier’s check for $10,000 to Second Harvest. When we asked Peppel where the other money was, he wrote, “We are working out the details with some local partners to continue to direct funds to the people in East Palestine.”
Second Harvest has contacted the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
“My question is, where’s the money?” Iberis wonders.
After we asked three times where the other $131,000 went after the check donation, we got a response late Tuesday afternoon. According to Peppel, the total gross amount raised is $141,183. There are agency fees that total up to $14,118.35 and data prospecting fees that add up to $91,769.26. So at this point, about $35,000, net, was raised after fees were taken out.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office said it could not confirm nor deny the existence of, or potential for, any investigation.