MEMPHIS (WMC TV) - In the wake of the deaths of West Memphis Police Sgt. Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans, the Officer Down Foundation is causing a lot of confusion.
The Action News 5 Investigators have received e-mails from Mid-South viewers who claimed they've been solicited by the Texas-based group's Florida telemarketer, nearly two weeks after the police officers' shooting deaths.
"They wanted me to commit certain amounts of money for the support of downed officers," said Peggy McAneney of Memphis in an e-mail to the Action News 5 Investigators. "I told them I had given locally, but they kept asking."
So WE started asking.
We discovered the Officer Down Foundation is based in Brownwood, TX. Its director is David Fair.
Fair, a retired Brownwood city council member, did not return a voice mail message the Action News 5 Investigators left on his home phone.
But on his foundation's website (www.officerdownfoundation.org), he claimed he's a 25-year veteran "crisis chaplain" whose foundation is "...dedicated to improving the field of critical incident preparation, response and recovery" for state and local police departments.
"When there is a tragedy, people rise to the occasion," Fair said in one of the site's video clips, "and I know there are hundreds of heroes and angels out there."
But Fair and his foundation have been neither heroes nor angels to the West Memphis Police Department.
"It would have been filtered through me, and I have not heard from them," said West Memphis Police Assistant Chief Mike Allen, who said the only legitimate fund-raiser for the Paudert and Evans families is Action News 5's joint fund-raiser with SunTrust Bank.
"I have not heard of (the Officer Down Foundation) other than hearing of that agency's website as far as giving information on officers that have fallen throughout the country," Allen said.
According to the Better Business Bureau's Hot Topics web page, the Officer Down Foundation "...has applied for, but not received, tax exempt status from the IRS."
The IRS confirmed it has not granted tax-exempt status to the foundation.
The foundation admits on its home web page that "...application for tax exemption is pending. Contributions to the organization should be tax deductible pending final determination."
By law, contributions are only tax-deductible if they're made to an actively tax-exempt organization, not retroactively.
The Officer Down Foundation is not registered as a non-profit in Texas, but it is registered as a non-profit with the Florida Department of State. Its online annual report does not delineate how much of its contributions go to overhead costs.
In a cruel twist of irony, Fair's Florida telemarketer is based in Pinellas County, FL. That's the last known home of Jerry and Joe Kane, confirmed as the officers' killers and who themselves were killed in the subsequent shootout with West Memphis police and Crittenden County sheriff's deputies.
A voice mail message left with the Florida solicitor went unanswered.