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Judge OKs restraints on bogus Sandy charity to protect donations

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge today temporarily banned the operators of a purported Superstorm Sandy charity from soliciting additional donations and ordered them to preserve the money and items donated to date — of which, state authorities said, less than 1% has gone to help victims.

State authorities obtained the order from Superior Court Judge Robert Contillo in Hackensack after accusing John Sandberg and Christina Terraccino of steering donations into their personal accounts and stealing the name of New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie’s Hurricane Sandy Relief charity to do so.

The couple and the fund it created have agreed so far to place the approximately $631,000.00 donated to date and any donations that come in after this point into an interest-bearing attorneys’ escrow account.

What’s more, Contillo ordered that remainder of $400,000 in donated items now stored in a warehouse, as well as unused gift cards, be donated to the Salvation Army.

Sandberg, 30, and Terraccino, 27, also must post notices on the HSRF websites and Facebook and Twitter accounts that the foundation isn’t tax-exempt as defined by the IRS and that they’ve filed an application for such status, under the judge’s order.

Contillo also ordered them to take down the “Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund” site and post a notice that the foundation isn’t affiliated with the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.

They also must preserve all records and give the state all names and contact information of donors so that they can possibly be reimbursed, among other reasons.

The Sparta couple also must deposit $13,596.53 into the escrow account.

The state divisions of Criminal Justice and Consumer Affairs brought the case to Bergen County because Sandberg listed his parents’ home address in Wyckoff as the main business contact when the HSRF was established as a nonprofit on October 31. A Facebook page used Terracino’s hometown of South Hackensack.

The temporary restraints approved today “will ensure the donations made to date are preserved and maintained until a final resolution of the state’s complaint. This is an important step toward ensuring that these donations go toward aiding Sandy victims as this organization represented to donors,” state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said.

Although the sham Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation claimed that all donations provided “immediate” relief to Sandy victims, the group distributed only $1,650 in gift cards during the three and a half months of its existence – an amount representing less than one percent of the $631,000 HSRF has raised in donations, state authorities said in a lawsuit filed last week in Superior Court in Hackensack.

Financial records show that Sandberg and  Terraccino used the money to pay off credit cards, to have dinner at Vivo Tapas in Newark (among other restaurants), to buy a Christmas tree, to shop at the Apple online store and for other personal uses, Chiesa said.

CLIFFVIEW PILOT broke the original story:

  • YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: State authorities have sued the operators of a purported Superstorm Sandy charity who they said steered donations into their personal accounts and stole the name of New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie’s Hurricane Sandy Relief charity to do so. For all of the details, click here to: READ MORE….

John Sandberg, Christina Terraccino

Chief Investigator Laurie Goodman, of the DCA’s Office of Consumer Protection, conducted the investigation. Deputy Attorney General Lorraine Rak, Chief of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, and Deputy Attorney General Kourtney J. A. Knop are representing the state.

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