Deceptive fundraising is alleged

In the world of telephone hustling we have the matter of Stage Door Music Productions — an unlikely

In the world of telephone hustling we have the matter of Stage Door Music Productions — an unlikely name, but that’s what they call themselves — taken to task last week by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who desires to put them out of business.

What has Stage Door been up to, to warrant such attention?

Well, according to the AG, they have been calling us up and asking us to donate to such purported charities as the Saratoga County jail guards’ union, which is not unusual in itself, except they have misrepresented themselves, misrepresented the organizations on whose behalf they are begging, and lied about the ultimate use to which donated money will be put, “kids” apparently being the favorite dodge.

The operation has been run by one Thomas J. Kershaw out of the basement of his home in Colonie, according to the AG, as part of a larger operation based in Connecticut. Kershaw was supposedly the local manager.

Among his alleged failings was his not declaring on his registration as a fundraiser that he had a history of seven criminal convictions, ranging from petty larceny to forgery, fraud and false impersonation.

I was unable to reach Mr. Kershaw to ask him about all this, so I rely on the complaint filed by the AG.

The AG says Stage Door typically retained 75 to 85 percent of the money it raised as charitable donations, though that is not among the charges against the company, since there is no legal limit to what they can keep. The split is a private matter between the purported charity and the company that does the soliciting.

It’s a mystery to me why anyone would donate money in response to a telephone call on behalf of some police or sheriffs organization, since it’s well known that the company that does the calling, whether Stage Door or any other, keeps almost all the loot and gives the law-enforcement group just enough to make it worth that group’s while, but you know what they say about how often a sucker is born.

One of the common tricks, which I have heard on the phone often enough myself, is for the caller to say he’s calling “from” such and such a law enforcement outfit, or that he’s “with” such and such an outfit, leading you to believe he’s a cop or a deputy sheriff, when in fact he’s just some loser down in a basement somewhere trying to sucker you and is no more a cop than my grandmother is.

The idea, of course, is to intimidate you. Don’t people know this by now?

I guess not. From its three locations in New York, “Stage Door” raised $6 million from 2006 through 2008, of which it kept $4.7 million for itself. The individual callers themselves got a 25 percent cut of whatever they coaxed out of their targets — in cash, with no tax reporting, according to the AG’s complaint.

One of their transgressions, the AG said, was failing to advise people that they were paid to do the calling. I never even knew there was such a requirement, though I personally hang up before they get a chance to say very much. As soon as I hear they are from or with some high-sounding law enforcement organization, I know it’s a union hustle, that’s all.

That’s what it was in Saratoga County. Stage Door callers didn’t say they were raising money for the jail guards’ union — callers never say anything so straightforward — though that’s what they were doing.

Technically they were raising money for the Saratoga County Sheriffs Officers Association, but that’s merely a fundraising front for the guards’ union, which in turn is misleadingly called the Saratoga County Deputy Sheriffs Benevolent Association.

Five years ago a court ordered the union to stop using the term “deputy sheriffs” in its fundraising, since it had not actually represented any deputy sheriffs for at least 10 years. (Deputy sheriffs in Saratoga County are officers who do road patrol; jail guards are “corrections officers”; they are not deputies.)

Stage Door hustlers said they were calling from “Saratoga County sheriffs” or “deputy sheriffs,” and according to the AG, they were trained to do that, to be deceptive.

A related racket was the publication of a journal consisting entirely of ads, which Stage Door solicitors induced businesses to buy by implying that the Sheriff’s Department kept a list of all businesses with complaints against them and suggesting it would be in a business’s interest to pony up.

Last year Stage Door raised $84,966 this way, keeping $63,679 for itself and turning over most of the rest to the jail guards.

Now if you’re thinking that it’s curious for people involved in law enforcement, even at the level of guarding a jail, to be parties to such deception, you think the same thing I do.

Stage Door had more than 30 contracts with so-called charitable organizations when the AG filed his complaint, and “nearly all” of them were with “law enforcement support organizations,” according to the complaint.

Clearly jail guards and other cop organizations that benefit from these scams don’t perpetrate the scams themselves. But they seem happy enough to benefit from them without inquiring exactly how money gets coaxed out of people.

A company like Stage Door offers them maybe 20 percent of a fundraising campaign, which may amount to a few thousand dollars, and why should the union care about what a lopsided split that is? It’s still a few thousand dollars they wouldn’t get otherwise.

And usually the unions do just enough community service to qualify as charities, though that is far from their main purpose. Their main purpose is simply to look out for the interests of their members, of course, which is why I cautiously refer to them as purported charities.

You could say they are not even law-enforcement entities; the actual police or sheriff’s departments are that. They are labor unions, or in some case lobbying organizations.

Anyway, I believe I have now performed my own community service in advising you how this racket works, so from now on if you write a check in response to one of these telephone calls you are on your own. I wash my hands of responsibility.


The Spotlight community newspaper reported the other day the concern of an assemblyman that “allowing mixed marital arts fighting in the state would counter anti-domestic violence and bullying efforts,” and I can only second that concern. I can’t think of any way to undermine anti-domestic-violence efforts better than by allowing mixed marital-arts fighting.

Categories: Opinion

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