Christmas

  • Have you been asked to donate to Shop with a Sheriff? Call me.

    If you live in Bexar County, someone claiming to be with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County might have called you recently, asking for money.

    The caller probably promised that every penny of your donation stays in Bexar County. You were probably told that it all goes to a worthy cause.

    Like most sales pitches, it wasn’t entirely true.

    Offices of the Deputy Sheriff's Association of Bexar County
    The Deputy Sheriff s Association of Bexar County has offices in this building near the San Antonio International Airport.
    Last year the union representing Bexar County sheriff’s deputies hired a telemarketing firm called PFR Promotions to raise money for a charitable program called “Shop with a Sheriff.” Also called “Shop with a Cop” in other cities, it’s a holiday shopping spree for poor kids.

    The event is real. But most of the money from donations goes to PFR Promotions, not the kids.

    I started looking into Shop with a Sheriff after receiving a tip from someone who read our stories about the Texas Highway Patrol Museum, another telemarketing entity that relied on the credibility of law enforcement officers to raise money. The small San Antonio museum actually employed hundreds of telemarketers across Texas who raised millions. Yet only a fraction was spent on charity. Executives squandered donations on luxury vehicles and junkets. In December 2011, the Texas Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit and successfully shut down the operation.

    Shop with a Sheriff is a real event that helps children. But most of the money raised — 67 percent — goes to PFR Promotions, a telemarketing firm based in Arizona. Only a third trickles down to the charitable cause.

    Donors aren’t being told that vital information. In Texas, the law requires telemarketers who are raising money for law enforcement organizations to disclose their overhead before any donation is made. The law applies to companies located outside Texas. Organizations are also required to report that information to the Texas attorney general, which the union had failed to do.

    Union President Juan Contreras acknowledged that he wasn’t aware of that legal requirement and pledged to take care of the problem immediately. He said the union might sever its relationship with PFR Promotions.

    But in the meantime, I’d love to hear from potential donors whether PFR’s telemarketers are complying with the law.

    If you’ve received a phone call, feel free to contact me and let me know if the caller is disclosing who he works for — and where your money is really going.