At a time of year when collections for charities are at an all-time high, one man is finding out the hard way that it doesn’t pay to be a scrooge, or a thief.
Clinton L. Fuston of Union Township has been indicted on charges of grand theft after allegedly bilking thousands of dollars from good samaritans by making what police say are false collections for a veteran’s charity.
Sgt. John Swing of the Miami Township Police said that late last year, he became suspicious of a charity collection located in front of a Miami Township business.
“I was off-duty and entering a Kmart in Miami Township and I saw a guy collecting for veterans, but it was after Veteran’s Day,” said Sgt. Swing. “It was late November or early December in 2005. They were giving out flags when people made donations. I asked who they were collecting for and he said ‘army and navy,’ but I had never heard of that before. I asked security and they said that they collected on a regular basis and that they had been seen taking money out of the donation bucket to buy cigarettes.”
Unwilling to give it the benefit of the doubt, Sgt. Swing said that he asked the store to notify him when Fuston’s collection crew came around the next time. According to the officer, when that happened, things began to break in a big way, showing that the supposed giver was actually scrooging thousands out of the money that they thought would be going to veterans.
“I asked them to call me the next time the group came out to collect,” said Sgt. Swing. “Sure enough, they came out again. They called, and I was busy, so I had another officer go out. The woman collecting at the time had a warrant out, so she was arrested and everything was confiscated. That officer, Kevin Murray, started to investigate and realized it would be very involved and time consuming, so I followed up on it. I issued multiple grand jury subpoenas for Clinton Fuston’s personal bank records and also for his non-profit account.”
What Sgt. Swing found was about a decade of false collections made in the name of a legitimate charity. Ostensibly collecting for the Army Navy Union USA, Fuston was actually pocketing most of the money, said Sgt. Swing, who found records of purchases with no apparent tie to veterans.
“Initially, he indicated at the individuals collecting for him were volunteers, but we interviewed the collectors and they said he paid them $7 an hour from the bucket,” said Sgt. Swing. “It didn’t seem right that people were giving their money for veterans and he was then turning around and paying people from the bucket. After getting these bank records, it became clear very quick that this money was going to a lot of places, but veterans weren’t one of them. He bought a van with this money, he bought gas for the van, computers, took a disney trip on these funds, built sheds on the property, and tried to rationalize it as the cost of operating a charity.”
Following the paper trail, Sgt. Swing said that he found where “donations” recorded by Fuston were going places, but not to veterans.
“As it turns out, he would employ six or seven people at a time to go to different businesses,” said Sgt. Swing. “They would take donations, give out flags, and then at the end of the day he would pick them up, pay them from the buckets, then take the money home and count it and decide how much would go into the army and navy account. God only knows how much of it went into his account. A lot of checks were written to different people.
One was a woman she said was a veteran. I tracked her down and it turns out she is his sister, and not a veteran. Another woman whom he also claimed was a veteran is a waitress, and he had written her a check for $200, drove her to the bank, had her cash it and let her keep $50. He realized there was a paper trail, so he did his best to cover it.”
The scope of the suspected scam is daunting, said Sgt. Swing, noting that, in all, Fuston did pay more than $26,000 to buy complimentary flags to hand out to donors.
“Army Navy Union USA is a notable veteran’s organization, and is one of the oldest in the country,” said Sgt. Swing. “It was actually started here in Cincinnati. He started his own chapter in 1993, and started fund-raising then. This has been going on every bit of 10 years. The flags he hands out, he’s bought 160,000 of them. That kind of gives you an idea of how much money he’s taken in. According to the collectors, some people would throw change in, but some would throw in dollars, five, ten and even twenty dollar bills. Not everyone would take a flag. He’s a professional con.”
Sgt. Swing said that the accomplices in the case, specifically those hired by Fuston to do the collecting, will probably not be charged and have been cooperating with the authorities. However, Sgt. Swing noted that they were, at the time, receiving government aid, such as disability, and should have reported the earnings but didn’t.
Still, additional charges may be levied against Fuston, and there may be a few other individuals indicted in the matter. Sgt. Swing said that nobody admitted to knowing it was a scam, although a few did confess to having suspicions.
Sgt. Swing added that businesses should be more selective, or at least careful, when choosing to allow someone to do a fund-raiser outside of their store.
“These businesses were giving him position to fund-raise,” said Sgt. Swing. “Our businesses need to be more responsible with who they give permission to fund-raise.”