WBTV Investigation: Charity hasn’t made donations to local police department it’s been fundraising for.
Police Foundation hasn’t donated to department and instead received nearly $5,000 from taxpayers.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A WBTV investigation into a local charity has found no evidence the organization has made any contributions to the police department it was created to help.
Since WBTV started investigating, the charity announced it is placing donors’ contributions into a secure bank account before taking any more steps.
The Waxhaw Police Foundation was created in 2019 and is a separate entity from the Town of Waxhaw and a registered non-profit. But even its independence from the town is complicated because of how the organization was formed.
The more straightforward issue, according to Waxhaw resident Edwin Elam, is the lack of transparency from the Waxhaw Police Foundation.
Elam wrote a letter to the Foundation that he read to WBTV during an interview.
“I would like to know what you have donated to the town of Waxhaw over the last three years,” Elam said.
Elam said he recently donated to the Foundation but has had questions about how the funds have been spent. He showed WBTV a copy of the registered letter he sent to the Foundation Board and evidence that they refused to receive it. The letter was sent back to Elam.
“Who is running that operation? What are they doing with the public’s money?” Elam asked.
When Elam couldn’t get answers, WBTV started digging.
A search of Waxhaw records and town meetings revealed no evidence the Foundation had ever made a donation to the Town or Waxhaw Police Department.
According to a memo from the town attorney, obtained by WBTV through a public records request, the only way the Foundation could donate to the police department is by putting it on the agenda for Town Commissioners to vote on and accept.
There is ample evidence that while there haven’t been any donations to the town, the Foundation has been raising money.
The Foundation has promoted several fundraisers through social media including a golf tournament at Stone Bridge Golf Club. WBTV also found a record of a donation of $1,000 from St. Matthews.
Instead of donations, the only transaction WBTV could find between the Foundation and the Town of Waxhaw was a check for nearly $5,000 from taxpayers in 2019 to help the Foundation pay attorneys to incorporate and become a “town component.” That funding was approved by town commissioners,
An email acquired by WBTV shows legal counsel advising the town in 2019 about the relationship to the Waxhaw Police Foundation.
“Even though they’ll function independently and their funds will be separate, for legal purposes they meet the test to be a component unit which is similar to how the ABC Board is a component unit of the town,” the attorney wrote.
“It was questionable leadership from the beginning, and it was fiscally irresponsible for a town to give that kind of money to an entity,” Elam told WBTV.
That leadership is mostly out of office. Former Town Commissioner Candace DeFinis was appointed to fill a vacant position on the town commission one month later. She now serves as the Chair of the Board of the Waxhaw Police Foundation.
Emails WBTV obtained through a public records request from the Town show a rocky relationship between town leaders and DeFinis.
One thread shows back-and-forth after a meeting about the foundation’s effort to buy the department a new ATV valued at roughly $33,000.
The messages show the meeting didn’t go according to plan.
In her email, DeFinis apologized to Chief Collins for “leaving you(r) office in an emotional state.” Other emails show the police department requesting input before a donation is made so that whatever is bought is actually needed.
More emails between DeFinis, the Police Chief and the Town Manager, show the only way the foundation could donate to the police department was by putting the ATV on the agenda for town commissioners to vote on and accept.
Despite previously seeking publicity for fundraisers, in an email DeFinis asked if the donation could be put on the consent agenda, meaning commissioners wouldn’t talk about it.
On December 14th, DeFinis wrote in an email the town “would not accept the gift” and they returned the ATV
But a statement from the Town of Waxhaw describes it differently. A spokesperson wrote “In order to ensure consistent, transparent, and approved purchases by the Waxhaw Police Foundation…the Foundation is required to disclose financial information. As of January 9, 2023, the financial records have not been released.”
WBTV reached out to DeFinis for an interview. She responded two weeks later and said she would need to wait to consult the foundation board.
In an email from DeFinis, a statement from the Waxhaw Police Foundation board put the blame back on the town.
“Over the last few months… the leadership of the Town of Waxhaw…have made it clear they no longer wish this partnership to continue. They demanded actions and stipulations which, per our attorney, appear to put the Foundation in conflict with the regulatory and statutory governance to which we must conform,” the statement read.
“The Town of Waxhaw’s actions have created a difficult situation. As a result, we have placed our funds – your contributions and donations – in a secure bank account. Over the next several weeks, the Board of the Waxhaw Police Foundation will meet with our legal representation to determine the appropriate path forward while conforming to IRS regulatory and statutory responsibilities,” the statement read.
WBTV asked follow up questions about the ‘stipulations’ mentioned by the Foundation and also requested copies of financial statements. The Foundation has not responded to those requests.
“What have they done with the dollars that they’ve asked the public to contribute? And we’ve seen nothing,” Elam said.
“That has to be questioned at least even by state legislators.”
If you donated to the Waxhaw Police Foundation or have a tip for the WBTV Investigates team email firstname.lastname@example.org.
FULL STATEMENT FROM WAXHAW POLICE FOUNDATION
The Waxhaw Police Foundation formally incorporated as an IRS-approved 501c3 not-for-profit in April 2019. The WPF formed with a focused purpose and the single most important indicator of a healthy not-for-profit: a strong and invested relationship between the Foundation and the Town of Waxhaw and its Police Department.
And for three years, that strong relationship grew stronger. With a commitment to our purpose and mission, the Waxhaw Police Department identified a need for the Foundation to focus on: a Polaris Ranger Crew Side by Side vehicle. We directed our fundraising efforts towards that need with passion. Members of the current Waxhaw Board of Commissioners and the current Mayor donated to this effort. It took two years, but we were able to purchase for the Town a Polaris valued at $33,103.00. We were prepared to deliver this to the Town in November 2022.
Over the last few months, however, the leadership of the Town of Waxhaw, including Mayor Pappas, several Town Commissioners, and Town Manager Wells, have made it clear they no longer wish this partnership to continue. They demanded actions and stipulations which, per our attorney, appear to put the Foundation in conflict with the regulatory and statutory governance to which we must conform and by which we must operate. We attempted discussions to mediate and preserve the relationship on August 3, 2022, and November 1, 2022. On November 16, 2022, the Town of Waxhaw took the additional step of refusing to accept the Polaris vehicle unless we accepted stipulations including changes to our bylaws, a new standard operating procedure, and a regulation that the Town Board of Commissioners must vote to accept any Waxhaw Police Department donations. We again sat down with the Town on November 28, 2022, in a final attempt to reach an agreement which would result in the town’s acceptance of the Polaris vehicle on behalf of the Police Department.
The Town of Waxhaw’s actions have created a difficult situation. As a result, we have placed our funds – your contributions and donations – in a secure bank account. Over the next several weeks, the Board of the Waxhaw Police Foundation will meet with our legal representation to determine the appropriate path forward while conforming to IRS regulatory and statutory responsibilities.
FULL STATEMENT FROM TOWN OF WAXHAW
The Waxhaw Police Foundation is a component unit of the Town of Waxhaw. In order to ensure consistent, transparent, and approved purchases by the Waxhaw Police Foundation (the Foundation) to be donated to the Town of Waxhaw for the use by the Waxhaw Police Department (WPD), the Foundation is required to disclose financial information and follow standard operating procedures. The Town of Waxhaw has been in correspondence with the Foundation representatives for over a year to obtain its financial records. As of January 9, 2023, the financial records have not been released and the standard donation operating procedures have yet to be followed by the Foundation.
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