March 5, 2014
Joplin, Mo. – Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster today announced that a New Orleans-based fundraiser has agreed to pay $39,200 to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for rebuilding efforts in Joplin, after an investigation revealed that she had taken a large portion of the money she collected for Joplin-tornado relief and spent it on herself instead.
Koster said Sidney Ray-Bazan collected more than $133,000 in donations and illegally diverted more than $39,000 – nearly 30 percent – of that money for personal use. The investigation revealed she made frequent cash withdrawals and transfers to her personal account from the charity's banking account and spent donated funds at New Orleans restaurants, coffee shops, upscale children's clothing boutiques, veterinary offices, grocery stores, and even on her children's babysitter.
The investigation also revealed that Relief Spark has never applied for recognition as a tax-exempt charity with the IRS.
"In 2011, good-hearted people across Missouri and the nation donated money to help the citizens of Joplin recover and rebuild," Koster said. "Unfortunately, we know that some individuals diverted charitable donations for personal gain. I am pleased that today we return a portion of that money to the people of Joplin."
Koster said the check will go to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, which will in turn provide the funds to Rebuild Joplin, a non-profit agency that has been dedicated to Joplin’s rebuilding efforts.
In addition to repaying the funds, Ray-Bazan also agreed to not solicit funds for any charitable purpose in the state of Missouri for five years. The agreement is subject to court approval; the Attorney General's Office filed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the Jasper County Circuit Court today.