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$70,000 In 12/14 Charity Donations Missing, State AG, IRS Getting Involved

This report was updated January 15 adding details from Senator Chris Murphy and state Attorney General Geaorge Jepsen.

 

Senator Chris Murphy is calling for the Internal Revenue Service to open an investigation into a Nashville, Tenn. charity formed in the wake of 12/14 that has been unable to account for more than $70,000 it raised through marathon running.

On January 10, 26.4.26 Foundation co-founder Ryan Graney said only $30,000 of the $103,000 taken in has been used for the organization’s purpose. That money was presented last January by co-founder Robbie Bruce to the nonprofit NYA, a youth sports center in Newtown.

Graney said he was in charge of the organization’s finances but Bruce has cut off contact with her.

On Tuesday, January 14, Senator Murphy sent a letter to John Koskinen, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to call for an immediate investigation into the 26.4.26 Foundation. 

“It’s outrageous that somebody would run off with even one penny intended to help this community heal,” said Murphy, who represents Newtown. “It’s unconscionable that the goodwill of so many in the wake of this tragic event has been exploited by somebody associated with this Foundation. I worry that if this incident remains unresolved it will discourage other generous people from across the country and around the globe from donating money to help Newtown recover.”

Bruce hasn't return repeated telephone messages from The Associated Press, including one left with his sister. Public records list Bruce’s address as an apartment in a gated complex on the southern outskirts of Nashville.

No one answered the door there Friday afternoon according to the AP.

An online biography lists Bruce, an endurance athlete, as co-founder of Nashville-based X3 Endurance, a fitness training company, which had a link to the foundation on its website. But Eddie Ferrell, another co-founder of that company, said it ended its relationship with Bruce almost a year ago and his whereabouts are unknown.

The idea behind the 26.4.26 Foundation was for runners to participate in marathons, raising money for each of the 26 miles they ran and dedicating each mile to one of the 26 victims of the school shooting — 20 children and six educators.

The fundraising effort was featured in Runner’s World magazine and was the subject of several local news stories.

The group held its first marathon in Nashville a week after the shooting, with more than 1,000 participants. Another was held in New Hampshire last April.

More than 1,400 runners raised about $22,000 for the foundation, organizers said. The charity also received donations from runners in other events, Graney said.

Graney said she noticed something was amiss last spring, when she discovered suspicious charges to the foundation’s PayPal account.

“I saw there was $1,200 billed for paddle boards,” she said. “I went on [Bruce’s] Instagram page, and he had posted a picture of a paddle board in the back of his truck.”

Graney said she confronted Bruce and he promised to meet her and go over the organization’s finances. She said he never showed up and then cut off contact with her in September.

She said she filed complaints with the FBI and the Tennessee attorney general’s office, which said they don’t comment on ongoing investigations.

Graney said the foundation, registered as a nonprofit corporation in Tennessee, had virtually no overhead or other expenses that would justify not giving the vast majority of the proceeds to the people of Newtown.

“I am in tears, sick about this,” Graney said by telephone Friday.

The attorney general’s office in Connecticut, which has been keeping track of charities that sprang up after the shooting, said last week it had no knowledge of the foundation.

Attorney General George Jepsen wrote a letter Monday to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. about the 26.4.26 Foundation and its co-founder. Mr Jepsen said at that time his office and his counterpart in Tennessee are investigating Bruce.

In his letter, Mr Jepsen offered assistance in the Tennessee investigation and says he also is seeking contact information for Bruce.

The NYA’s executive director, Dorrie Carolan, said her organization “graciously accepted a check in the amount of $30,000, which cleared shortly after it was received.”

Leigh Melia, who lives in Lebanon, 70 miles east of Newtown, ran three miles of the New Hampshire race as part of a relay team with a group of teachers and her then-7-year-old daughter. She said each mile was dedicated to a different Sandy Hook victim and she explained to her daughter who they were as they ran.

“When I ran, I thought the money was going to those victims and their families,” she said, adding she feels someone should be held accountable now that the money has gone missing.

Graney said her hope is publicizing the problem will help get the money to where it belongs.

“If I knew what was going on, I would have stopped it sooner,” she said. “I feel terrible. I couldn’t sit by and let this happen.”

Associated Press content has been used in this report.

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