Thrift Land USA, a for-profit company, has reached a $700,000 settlement over fraudulently representing themselves as a clothing donation charity. Owner, Carl Vella made approximately $10 million during 2013 and 2014 by selling the donated clothing to buyers in Jordan, Mexico, and other countries.
New York prosecutor and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that the scam involved two not-for-profit companies, I Love Our Youth, Inc. and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rockland County. Thrift Land USA did not register as a charitable organization, and in order to appear credible, Vella paid the non-profit companies a monthly fee to use their logos on the sides of his 1,300 collection bins.
Attorney General Schneiderman commented on the case in a prepared statement:
“Duping members of the public into thinking that they are making a charitable donation, when in fact they are enriching a for-profit corporation, is both deceptive and illegal. When a for-profit company masquerades as a charity, my office will hold it and its owners accountable.”
The company is to pay a $700,000 settlement, $50,000 in fees and $650,000 to be paid to help support two authentic not-for-profit organizations, the New York Community Trust and the Westchester Community Foundation.
Thrift Land USA is now obligated to label themselves as a ‘for-profit’ company on their collection bins, which are still distributed throughout Connecticut and New York.
Vella and his lawyer have yet to make public interviews over the settlement.
Unfortunately, this case is one of the many numerous companies that are misrepresenting themselves; Vella used both charities on his website and collection bins, and also answered his phone as “I Love Our Youth.”
It can be difficult to know when a charity is credible, especially when the company has gone through great efforts to appear legitimate, as Vella did. There are resources available to help guide well-meaning people, such as Forbes and Consumer Reports that contain information listing the best (and worst) charities that allocate their funds appropriately.