D.C. police are investigating complaints that some callers working for a fund-raising company hired by a group of city police officers to raise money for their organization have implied in telephone solicitations that they are police officers and that contributors will get special favors, police officials said.
More than 50 people contacted by the fund-raising operation have complained about the telephone solicitors, raising a variety of questions about the fund-raising efforts, according to Capt. Clarence Dickerson, head of the department's special investigations branch.
Dickerson said he has sent the results of his preliminary investigation to the U.S. Attorney's Office here. He said the investigation has centered on whether the fund-raisers violated District fraud statutes. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment.
Mike May, head of the local fund-raising operation, said that solicitors do not claim to be police officers, that they do not suggest that donors will receive favorable police treatment, and that their solicitations have been perfectly legal. He said the money is used for the purposes the solicitors say it will be used, including two charities and the Alliance of Metropolitan Police Officers, the group that is sponsoring the fund appeal.
The alliance is made up of about 25 D.C. police officers who are trying to unseat the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) as bargaining agent for the city's police officers, according to alliance members.
The four-month-old fund-raising drive, which involves up to 500 calls a day to District business owners and lawyers, seeks to raise money by selling tickets to a vaudeville show scheduled for this fall, and by selling advertising space, at up to $780 a page, in a program for the show. Police officials and alliance members declined to say how much money had been raised.
The D.C. police are examining the role of the alliance and some of its officials in the fund drive, and they have no indication of any wrongdoing by their fellow officers, according to Lt. Brooks Kelly, also working on the investigation.
Dickerson said police received complaints that some fund-raisers imply that "you may get a lower degree of police protection should you choose not to give." The complaints were that the callers "sort of imply a police officer will be watching over you night and day" if you contribute, he said.
Who is running the fund-raising drive is in dispute. May says he is working for Celebrity Playhouse, a firm owned until recently by Roy Radin, one of the nation's leading police fund-raisers. Radin, a 33-year-old New York vaudeville promoter whose shows featured such prominent entertainers as Milton Berle and George Jessel, was found slain in California in June. Celebrity Playhouse's corporate office in New York declined comment.
But Radin's attorney, Lawrence Hirsch, said the local fund-raising is being handled by Advance Promotions, a firm he says Radin had no financial interest in. Advanced Promotions could not be reached for comment.
Celebrity Playhouse is scheduled to produce the vaudeville show for the District fund-raiser this fall, but the show may have to be delayed at least six weeks because of Radin's death, according to Hirsch.
Several fund-raising groups hired by police unions and fraternal groups have developed sophisticated telephone sales campaigns, usually undertaken in tandem with variety shows or circuses, according to the Better Business Bureau. Many of the fund drives generate few if any complaints, according to the BBB.
May, who is heading the ongoing fund drive here, said in a recent interview that the controversy "has gotten blown out of proportion."
"If it was bad enough, police officials would have closed us down," May said from an office at the alliance's headquarters at 918 F St. NW.
May said his telephone solicitors follow a written "pitch," and are instructed not to stray from it. The solicitors are allowed to say that giving to the alliance won't get a contributor off the hook if he has broken the law, but that a donation is "going to show you helped out," said May.
The solicitors are to tell those they call that funds will go to the alliance and two charitable causes, Children's Hospital and orphans of slain police officers.
Kelly said some complaints were that solicitors have told people that all the money raised will go to the hospital. Kelly said he believes from his investigation that a "small amount" of the money is to go to Children's Hospital. Detective J.C. Stamps, the alliance president, declined to comment on the amount to go to the hospital and May said he did not know.
How much of the funds to be collected under the local contract are to be retained by the fund-raising firm could not be determined. The firm is expected to keep 23 percent for promotional expenses, according to May.
Molly Hanson, a spokesman for Children's Hospital, said that the alliance has not directly contacted the hospital about its fund drive but that she was aware of the fund-raising effort. She said other fund-raisers have collected on behalf of the hospital without contacting the institution in advance.
Stamps said that the alliance is depositing those proceeds from the drive not earmarked for the alliance in bank accounts that can be drawn upon only by hospital officials and by the needy children's fund, set up by the alliance.
Stamps said that because the solicitors operate on commission, some may be tempted to use high-pressure sales techniques, but he personally tries to monitor the operation. He said he believes the investigation was prompted by members of the FOP, an allegation FOP members deny.