A charity formed after the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been unable to account for $73,000 it raised through marathon running, one of its co-founders said January 10. The FBI, the attorneys general in two states, and the IRS are all looking for the co-founder of an organization that raised funds for those affected by 12/14.
Ryan Graney, of Nashville, Tenn., said only $30,000 of the $103,000 taken in by the 26.4.26 Foundation was used for the organization’s purpose. That money was presented last January by co-founder Robbie Bruce to the nonprofit NYA Sports & Fitness Center in Newtown.
Ms Graney said Mr Bruce was in charge of the organization’s finances but has cut off contact with her.
Mr Bruce did not return repeated telephone messages from The Associated Press last week. Public records list his address as an apartment in a gated complex on the southern outskirts of Nashville.
An online biography lists Mr 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 Mr 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, Ms Graney said.
Ms 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 told the AP. “I went on [Bruce’s] Instagram page, and he had posted a picture of a paddle board in the back of his truck.”
Ms Graney said she confronted Mr 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.
Ms 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,” Ms Graney told the AP.
Attorneys General, IRS Also Involved
The attorney general’s office in Connecticut, which has been keeping track of charities that sprang up after the shooting, had no knowledge of the foundation as of last week, but has since been drawn into the investigation.
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen confirmed this week his office and his counterpart in Tennessee are now investigating the foundation. Mr Jepsen wrote a letter on Monday, January 13, to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, Jr, about the 26.4.26 Foundation and its co-founder, Robbie Bruce.
“I will appreciate receiving information you may learn about Mr Bruce’s current location or address so that my office can continue our diligence in accounting for all Sandy Hook-related fundraising and ensuring that it is used as intended for the Sandy Hook community and victims,”’ Mr Jepsen wrote to Mr Cooper, according to the AP.
Mr Cooper “fully understands the gravity of the situation,” Mr Jepsen told the AP on January 14.
Mr Cooper issued a statement on January 14 that said in part: “It is unthinkable that anyone would attempt to profit from the Sandy Hook tragedy and ultimately cause more pain for the families. Charities are supposed to help the community, not prey on it.”
Also this week, Special Agent Daniel Curtin, an FBI spokesman, said in an e-mail to the AP that there are ongoing fraud investigations related to Newtown.
“The FBI investigates these types of frauds thoroughly and with a real sense of urgency because we recognize that legitimate charitable organizations are harmed by fraud and, in the case of Newtown, victims’ families are, in a sense, revictimized,” he said.
The money that did find its way to Newtown last year has been accounted for.
NYA Executive Director Dorrie Carolan told the AP her organization “graciously accepted a check in the amount of $30,000, which cleared shortly after it was received.”
Ms 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.”
The foundation’s website and Facebook pages have both been disabled so that no additional donations will be received.
Ms Graney is still hoping to find Mr Bruce, and recover at least some of the money, she told CNN this week.
“From what we can find, I would like to get it to the people that it deserves to go to,” she said in a taped interview for AC360 that aired January 14. “I don’t know where it is, but hopefully we’re going to find it and I will make sure that it gets to the people that it needs to get to.”
The missing money is not the only trouble for the co-founders of 26.4.26. According to a report on CNN that aired on January 13, the foundation was in violation “of Tennessee civil codes because it never registered itself as a charitable organization,” which came, said CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin, “as a bit of a shock to co-founder Ryan Graney.”
The IRS has reportedly also been asked to look into the case of the missing money. The AP has reported that US Senator Chris Murphy sent a letter Tuesday to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen calling for an investigation of the 26.4.26 Foundation.
Anyone with information about Robbie Bruce and his whereabouts is being asked to call the Connecticut FBI office, at 203-777-6311.
Associated Press content was used in this report.