Imposter a red flag for flood donors

Just days after flooding upended thousands of lives, a man claiming membership in a fire department

Just days after flooding upended thousands of lives, a man claiming membership in a fire department serving the Schoharie Valley in Greene County set up a PayPal account and started calling for donations to support flood victims in Prattsville.

It’s unclear if unsuspecting donors sent money to help, but it turned out the man was an imposter — unknown to members of the fire department.

Complaints from people who didn’t know the man prompted the state Attorney General’s Office to demand Benjamin Ellis Freedland stop collecting donations because it was clear he wasn’t involved in flood relief.

“It is essential that funds intended for relief are protected and not squandered or exploited,” the AG’s Charities Bureau chief Jason Lilien said in a terse letter to Freedland.

“In addition to your apparent misrepresentations to the public, your ‘ellis/freedland disaster relief’ fund has not registered with the Charities Bureau, and is therefore prohibited under New York law from soliciting contributions in the State of New York,” Lilien said in the letter.

The outpouring of concern for flood victims has prompted numerous residents to send thousands of dollars to different entities and organizations trying to help — and there’s nobody policing that money or where it goes.

The village of Middleburgh started a relief/recovery fund but details of the program are still being developed, so Mayor William Ansel-McCabe said the village clerk is gathering everything that comes in and placing it into a dedicated account.

Waiting until the assistance program details are ironed out will help assure none of the cash is misappropriated, he said.

“We firmly intend on trying to give this money out in the most equitable way, we also want to make sure something like what happened in Prattsville doesn’t happen here,” McCabe said.

“There’s always people that will take advantage of situations like this,” he said, noting that there were people driving through the devastated village pulling copper piping out of the basements of unoccupied homes.


Since the disaster, numerous agencies and organizations have been collecting money to help.

These include the American Red Cross, the United Way of New York State, the Schoharie County Community Action Agency and the Roman Catholic Diocese.

More-local efforts like the one in Middleburgh include Schoharie Recovery — mentioned by comedian David Letterman on the Late Night Show — as well as school groups, the Chamber of Commerce and organizers of musical events promising proceeds to the recovery effort.

In Schoharie County, Emergency Management Director Judith Warner said her office has been unable to get in contact with representatives of some charities and it can’t necessarily endorse any particular charity or fund — nor describe specifically where the money is being directed.

Bringing some order to this chaos is a task Warner said she’s been unable to delegate to any specific staffer so far.

“I’m trying to work through a human needs branch within our structure to find somebody to coordinate the donations,” Warner said.

There’s been confusion among some, particularly residents in Schoharie County, who have said they thought their donation was going directly to their neighbors but learned it was being pooled into a broader disaster relief effort.

Those grumblings are part of what prompted residents in Schoharie to create Schoharie Recovery, a 501c3 organization registered by the state on Sept. 30.

“Part of the reason for the Schoharie Recovery effort, creating a fund, is to respond to that by defining that all the money coming in is going directly to services in the homes,” said John Poorman, a member of the new organization’s board.

“Our message to the community is any of the money that’s coming to Schoharie Recovery is going to go right back into the rebuilding effort,” he said.

Schoharie Recovery is planning to help residents rebuild their flooded homes within the boundaries of the Schoharie Central School District, which encompasses Schoharie, Gallupville, Central Bridge and Esperance.

Details on some of the other entities and agencies collecting money for flood relief efforts are as follows:

u Red Cross: According to its website, the American Red Cross of Northeastern New York has been distributing food and other forms of assistance throughout a 19-county region hit hard by the storms.

The agency by Sept. 27 had deployed more than 8,500 Red Cross disaster workers from throughout the country to affected areas, opening about 580 shelters, paying for 68,517 overnight stays, distributing with its partners more than 2.5 million meals and handing out 600,000 comfort and cleanup kits.

Donations to the Red Cross can be made by calling 1-800-REDCROSS, or online at

u United Way: Gov. Andrew Cuomo in early September organized the “Labor for Your Neighbor” program and the initiative was tied to another way to donate money via the Internet or mail.

Money sent to the “Hurricane Irene Recovery Fund” is being sent to the United Way of New York State. To date, the effort has raised nearly $74,000 which will be distributed to flood survivors. The process will entail consultation with an advisory group of agencies who will be able to identify unmet needs. Expenses the agency will help with, through grants, include cleaning supplies, medical and mental health services, legal assistance if the American Bar Association is unable to assist, help with security deposits and other expenses. United Way of New York State President Susan K. Hager on Thursday said the agency expects to be sending out information on the availability of grants within a week or so.

People who want to help can make contributions by check or credit card. For more information go to

u Albany Diocese: The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, following an appeal from Bishop Howard H. Hubbard, has collected at least $190,000 from parishioners — a figure that includes only half of the 135 parishes — on top of another $35,000 in donations directly to Catholic Charities organizations of the diocese.

Diocese spokesman Ken Goldfarb said the relief money is being directed toward Catholic Charities offices, including those in Otsego, Delaware, Schoharie, Greene and Schenectady counties.

People looking to donate money to the Diocese effort can go online to


u Schoharie County Community Action Program Inc.: Within days of the disaster, the Schoharie County Community Action Program opened up a center in Cobleskill to collect dry goods, diapers and other items people needed right away.

SCCAP has also established a relief fund for donations to be directed to flood survivors within Schoharie County.

SCCAP board member Marie Campbell said that by Thursday the agency distributed about 375 $500 checks to victims without restrictions in terms of what they spend the money on.

A committee meets weekly to review applications.

The agency is also accepting donations, marked with “agriculture,” which are being directed specifically to farmers in the county who need help.

“There is money earmarked just for farmers and we want to make sure it goes to the agricultural community,” Campbell said.

Contact information for SCCAP and an online method of donating can be found on their website at

u Schoharie Recovery: Schoharie Recovery Inc., incorporated on Sept. 30, grew out of the spontaneous relief efforts coordinated by the Schoharie Reformed Church in the village of Schoharie, board member John Poorman said.

Schoharie Recovery has been soliciting donations and got a boost with a mention from comedian David Letterman on his Late Show.

Although the show ran the wrong zip code for the fund, U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Maureen Marion on Thursday said the service initiated “stopgap” measures with the post office in Brooklyn — which has the zip code errantly run on the TV show.

Those measures worked, and the money is being redirected to Schoharie, she said.

“We are seeing material coming through to Schoharie for the relief fund and we are definitely seeing material that’s been captured using the redirection that we had set up with the Brooklyn post office,” she said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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