Zahra Baker foundation faces questions about spending - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Zahra Baker foundation faces questions about spending

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

It's been two years since crews set out to find 10-year-old Zahra Baker, and a local charity using her name may have some explaining to do.

Allegations of using foundation money for personal expenses including dinner and gas money are just a few examples that have donors upset.

Two years ago, Zahra Baker's smile captured international headlines and within weeks of her death, people around the world opened their wallets.

Jim Julian says he started the Zahra Clare Baker Memorial Foundation in January 2011 out of the kindness of his heart.

"It motivated us to try to help," Julian said.

His website, www.friendsofzahrabaker.com says "the goal of this foundation is to in the spirit of Zahra, help children with challenges. We want to make a difference in these kids' lives"

"I have a daughter that's the same age as Zahra would be right now and it seemed like such a tragedy," said Shelley Alger, a donor.

Alger lives near Boston and says she quickly became mesmerized by Zahra's story. Alger tells WBTV she donated almost a thousand dollars in cash to the foundation, but quickly became uncomfortable.

"After a while, I started to have a gut feeling the money wasn't being used for what I thought it was supposed to be," she said.

Alger says Jim Julian pressured her to send more money.

"To me that was just overstepping the bounds. I just felt like I was doing this because I wanted to. I didn't want to be reminded that I was donating," she said.

Seth Loven lives in Morganton and also calls his conversations with Julian "high pressure".

"He'd ask me, are you sending your money yet, and I just stopped messaging him after awhile because I got tired of it," Loven said.

Loven also says he got suspicious.

"He (Julian) said the money went to the park, or some of the money went to the park and I asked about the money at the park when it first opened and nobody never heard of Jim Julian," Loven said. 

The park in question is the Zahra Baker Memorial Park in Hickory. We asked Julian whether he donated to it, and he says he intended to, but never did. Julian said the park refused his help. WBTV called the park officials, who dispute the claim.  

Earl Kuykendall from Illinois is also concerned.

"I haven't personally seen anything substantial for me to help to do anymore than what I've done for his cause," Kuykendall said.

Julian disputes the allegations.

"I never pressured anyone for money. In fact the people that give me donations, most of them I know, they are friends of mine," Julian said.

"The people you heard from are people just mad at me," Julian said.

Julian says he's being attacked because he's an atheist.  He says the foundation has pulled in between two and five thousand dollars, but would not give WBTV an exact number.

"(The money is going) to help get kids to their cancer treatments. We have purchased wheelchairs and had a laptop computer refurbished and sent to a little girl with Asperger Syndrome in the mountains," he said.

Julian says his foundation sent a little girl with cancer to the North Carolina Zoo, along with her family and friends.  He claims to have helped others.

We asked Jim Julian to show us all of his expenses from February 2011. He told us he couldn't. His ledger from the last few months shows several "personal" purchases made with Zahra foundation funds.

The ledger shows purchases at a pizza place, and purchases at a mini mart. Julian calls those purchases a simple mistake...and says he's reimbursed the fund. Julian also says he uses Zahra funds to pay for gas when he's traveling for foundation-related business. .

As a result of our investigation, the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office sent a certified letter to Julian, asking him to send in an application for a charitable solicitation license, a piece of paper allowing him to collect public funds.

State officials say Julian should have sent in the application over a year ago to determine whether he needs to report his financial statements. 

A spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's Office says there are charities that do not have to report expenditures because of exemptions, and it's too early to tell if Jim Julian's is one of them.

"I didn't know I had to (send the application out)," Julian said.

Julian says he'll continue to help kids and collect money, adding his foundation's message will overshadow his mistakes.

"This is about Zahra. It isn't about me," Julian said.

Julian has until October 22nd  to file his solicitation license paperwork with the Secretary of State's Office. He says he'll meet the deadline and also plans to file for tax exempt status, something he has not yet done. We'll follow up and keep you posted.

WBTV cannot report whether Julian is legally taking money or not. He may be found to be a legal charity. Right not, it's undetermined, so its donor beware. WBTV spoke to two families who have gotten some help from the foundation, but they would not elaborate on camera.

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