Texas Highway Patrol Museum

  • 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.

  • Attorney General Greg Abbott sues the Texas Highway Patrol Museum in San Antonio

    The Texas attorney general’s office announced yesterday that it has sued the Texas Highway Patrol Museum, a nonprofit telemarketing organization based in San Antonio that raises millions of dollars in the name of helping state troopers.

    Texas Highway Patrol MuseumI had always been curious about the museum, which is housed in a brick building at St. Mary’s and Alamo streets but attracts few visitors. In October, we examined the museum’s tax records and found that only a fraction of the nearly $12 million in revenue raised by the museum’s telemarketers actually went towards the charitable causes it touted. For every dollar raised, less than a penny was spent on Department of Public Safety troopers and their families.

    Attorney General Greg Abbott’s lawsuit reveals new details about what, exactly, donors’ money was spent on. State investigators obtained financial information and credit card statements from the museum, and found employees had paid for cigars, liquor, vacations, meals and “exorbitant” vet bills for an “office cat.” The lawsuit describes an organization with few controls over how money was spent, and an absentee board that seldom asked questions.

    Here’s an annotated copy of the lawsuit:

    In our last story, I interviewed Scott Henson at the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, who had received a telemarketing call from the museum in August. Scott wasn’t happy that the caller initially claimed to be with the Texas Highway Patrol — as if the caller were really with the Department of Public Safety. “This group is about as much about helping troopers as buzzards are about helping roadkill,” Scott wrote at the time. He called yesterday’s lawsuit “way past time.”

    The museum’s assets have been frozen and it’s been closed since Friday. Its lawyer, Kim Brown, called the lawsuit “heavy handed” and said the expenses were justified.

    What about the cigars?

    Prizes for telemarketers, he said.


    Drinks for office parties.

    The office cat?

    The vet bills for the cat were unavoidable.

    The lawsuit lays out more expenses for trips, meals and cars that the state describes as wasteful spending. But Brown said the museum is hardly a fly-by-night organization that defrauds people. The small museum has operated in San Antonio for years, he said, and while it has high overhead costs, it does spend money on charitable causes.

    The attorney general is seeking to dissolve the nonprofit museum and its related entities. The next step is a hearing for a temporary injunction that has yet to be scheduled.

    Here’s a searchable library of all primary documents we’ve obtained about the museum. If you’ve had any experiences with the museum or its telemarketers, feel free to contact us.