July 21, 2011
Jefferson City, Mo. – Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a lawsuit against Alivio Foundation, Inc., based in Puerto Rico, and Steve Blood, of Georgia, for allegedly fraudulently soliciting donations through the internet to help victims of the May 22 Joplin tornado.
“Unfortunately, there are always those who will take advantage of unsuspecting consumers during times of tragedy,” Koster said, “Protecting the citizens of Joplin is this office’s number one goal, and we will be aggressive in going after those who engage in charity scams or other fraudulent behavior affecting Joplin’s recovery.”
Koster said that soon after the tornado, Alivio began soliciting donations through a PayPal link on its website and through the online donation conduit, Crowdrise. Alivio claimed the donations would be used to assist survivors and relatives of Joplin tornado victims, and they listed the St. Peter The Apostle Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri as the intended beneficiaries to distribute the donations. In order to encourage donations, Alivio posted on its website pictures of the Joplin devastation and links to various news stories about the tornado.
Koster said neither the church nor Catholic Charities had ever heard of the Alivio Foundation, nor have any area churches received any funds from it. He said there is no record of the Alivio Foundation giving funds to any organization helping Joplin residents. The company’s page on Crowdrise’s website reported that it had raised $9,700 through Crowdrise.
Koster said Steve Blood runs an internet radio business through three websites. Through these websites, Blood claims to help victims of the Joplin and Tuscaloosa tornados by selling “Storm-Aid” t-shirts, setting up benefit concerts and offering concert sponsorships for sale, and providing an option to donate to Storm Relief efforts. Anyone wishing to buy a t-shirt, concert ticket or sponsorship, or make a donation, must use the PayPal link on the websites. Blood has collected nearly $5,000 from the account since the Joplin and Tuscaloosa tornados. None of the money has gone to help tornado victims, but rather, has been used for Blood’s personal expenses.
Koster is asking the court to issue an injunction prohibiting both Alivio and Blood from further violations of the Merchandising Practices Act and to require that all funds collected go to the intended recipients. In addition, he is asking the court to require each of the defendants to provide full restitution to donors; pay a civil penalty of $1,000 per violation of the law; pay a penalty to the state of 10 percent of the total restitution; and pay all court and investigative costs.