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L.A. County supervisor calls for investigation into fire foundation over fundraising violations

The Los Angeles County Fire Department Foundation was barred from fundraising after falling behind on paperwork

Vanessa Bryant arrives at U.S. Federal Courthouse.

Los Angeles, CA - August 19: Acting LA County Acting Fire Chief Anthony C. Marrone arrives at U.S. Federal Courthouse on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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By Rebecca Ellis
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn has called for an investigation into the Los Angeles County Fire Department Foundation after learning that the charity, created to financially support the county Fire Department, may have collected donations months after the state barred it from fundraising.

On March 10, the California Department of Justice, which regulates charities, informed the foundation by mail that it had not submitted a routine annual financial form for 2021. Four months later, the department sent another letter informing the foundation that it was now considered “delinquent,” meaning it could not raise funds or dole out donations, per state regulations.

The nonprofit, which has its own volunteer board of directors, was formed in 2016 to support the Fire Department, hosting ceremonies for agency personnel and buying equipment. The foundation’s website asks for donations for wildfire support, mechanical CPR devices and new ropes, among other needs.

“Your donations save lives that taxes cannot,” the website reads.

Hahn in a statement she was “outraged and disappointed” that the foundation kept taking in these donations months after being notified by the state it was behind on its paperwork.

“Whether it was malicious or accidental, there is no excuse for jeopardizing this organization that has become so important to our firefighters or for misleading donors who thought they were contributing to a nonprofit in good standing,” she said. “I am calling for a full investigation into exactly what happened and why it took so long for the fire chief and the Board of Supervisors to be told.”

Stacy Mungo Flanigan, the foundation’s president, said she did not know until last month that the organization was delinquent.

Flanigan said she received the March letter from the Department of Justice informing the foundation it was missing paperwork only in mid-October when it showed up in her mailbox — already opened. She said the mailbox is located at the county Fire Department headquarters, and she checks it only about once a month.

“The moral of the story is, I didn’t know,” she said. “The moment I knew we were delinquent, we took it seriously.”

The Department of Justice sent out additional letters to the foundation on July 21 and Sept. 29, informing it of its delinquent status and warning that it could lose its tax-exempt status if the proper paperwork wasn’t filed. Flanigan said she never received either of those letters.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Hahn plans to ask her colleagues to join her in a motion that asks the county’s lawyers to investigate the foundation and find out if “any deliberate or unintentional wrongdoing has occurred.” The motion also asks for an audit of the money the charity has received and spent since it was formed in the spring of 2016.

Flanigan said the foundation plays a critical role for the department. Since 2019, she said, it has given roughly $5 million to the department for items including Pelotons, jaws of life, refrigerators and mechanical CPR devices.

She also noted multiple charitable organizations that support county employees have, at one point, been placed on delinquent status by the Department of Justice.

After the March letter turned up this fall, she said she immediately sent the missing paperwork to the Department of Justice and expects the foundation to be back in good standing, though it is unclear when. She said she was told it could take up to three months for the state agency to process the documents.

Fire Chief Anthony Marrone said the department will “fully cooperate” with an investigation into the foundation.

On Wednesday, Marrone told the foundation’s board of directors in a letter that the department would stop taking donations from the foundation. He also ordered the foundation to remove the department “name, likeness and logo” from its website and postpone an upcoming celebration it had planned in honor of the department’s 100th anniversary.

The same day, he sent out a memo barring staff from requesting donations from the foundation and buying items from the foundation store, which sells T-shirts, keychains and pins.

Flanigan said Marrone’s decision has ground the foundation’s gift-giving to a halt.

She will stop paying the cellphone bills for the 585 iPads the foundation bought for firefighters, and is now storing 36 washers and dryers meant for the county’s fire stations.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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