EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced the terms of settlements with an organization in an East Palestine charity controversy.

Yost said an agreement was reached with Michael Peppel and his Ohio Clean Water Fund after an investigation into donations that he collected on behalf of Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.

Those at Second Harvest told WKBN previously that they never granted permission to raise funds for them, and Yost reported that Ohio Clean Water Fund collected more than $141,000 from donors — only $10,000 of which went to the food bank.

The organization had collected donations for “bottled water for East Palestine residents” via text messages following the Feb. 3 train derailment, according to Yost. The $10,000 was given to the food bank only after those there complained about the fund drive, Yost said.

After a report by WKBN, Yost sued the Ohio Clean Water Fund in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court, and on June 1, he announced a settlement. According to Yost, that settlement required OCWF to dissolve and to pay $116,904 in restitution to the food bank and a $15,000 civil penalty.

Since that settlement, a court-mandated review of OCWF’s bank records, invoices, payment records and other financial documents showed that the organization and its fundraiser had actually raised nearly $149,000 – and that OCWF used WAMA Strategies as its main fundraiser, according to a news release from Yost’s office.

Under the settlement with Peppel and WAMA:

  • Peppel must pay a $25,000 civil penalty and is permanently banned from incorporating, operating or soliciting for any charity in Ohio.
  • WAMA and its owners, Isaiah Wartman and Luke Mahoney, must pay $22,077 in restitution to Second Harvest, allowing the attorney general to distribute to the food bank 100% of the donations raised in its name.
  • WAMA and its owners must also pay $3,000 in investigative costs and fees to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
  • WAMA is prohibited for four years from soliciting for a charity in Ohio, and Mahoney is prohibited for four years from incorporating, operating or soliciting for a charity in Ohio.

“This settlement means the cost incurred by the state to investigate and prosecute does not come out of the food bank’s pockets,” Yost said. “That’s precisely the outcome we were looking for.”

“These scammers preyed on generous donors to try to line their own pockets, but ultimately were stopped and shut down,” he also stated.