Kids Wish Network named worst charity in America - WFLA News Channel 8

Kids Wish Network named worst charity in America

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Kids Wish Network response to financial questions raised by News Channel Eight in 2004 Kids Wish Network response to financial questions raised by News Channel Eight in 2004

The Center for Investigative Reporting, CNN and Tampa Bay Times has just released a series of reports called America's Worst Charities (http://cironline.org/americasworstcharities) and #1 on that list is the Holiday-based Kids Wish Network.

 Boy, does that ring a familiar bell.

As an investigative reporter for News Channel Eight, I started writing investigative stories nine years ago detailing how Kids Wish Network raises and spends millions of dollars in charitable donations. Back then, the national charity founded by Mark and Shelley Breiner was based in Oldsmar and later moved its headquarters to Holiday in Pasco County.

Since our first investigative news report in 2004, The Kids Wish Network has more than doubled its annual income. According to the charity's latest financial report filed with the IRS, Kids Wish Network raked in nearly $25 million between June of 2011 and May of 2012.

Our stories over the years highlighted how Kids Wish Network spends most of the charitable donations it collects on fundraising and professional fundraising companies and little of its cash on the specific charitable cause its name implies--granting wishes for kids.

According to last year's IRS filing by the tax-exempt organization, cash grants for wish granting totaled $237,986, less than 1% of the charity's total annual revenue of $24,735,783.

Last year Meanda DuBay, a former wish granter who worked at KWN until December 2011, approached News Channel Eight with her concerns about how the charity raises and spends donations based on what DuBay said she witnessed and learned while working for the organization. 

Shortly before our interview, Kids Wish Network fired DuBay and told the FBI she had stolen confidential information from the charity, hacked into charity's computers and committed federal cybercrimes.

The FBI spent months investigating DuBay before concluding she had not broken any federal laws. The charity and DuBay are still involved in civil litigation related to her employment and dismissal.

Meanwhile, shortly after our reports featuring DuBay's allegations aired early last year, Kids Wish Network amended two annual  financial reports filed with the IRS.

Those amended financial reports filed with the IRS reflect the very thing that DuBay claimed in our news reports—that the charity had unreported financial dealing with its founder and former executive director Mark Breiner and failed to report spending millions on professional fundraising organizations operated by him.

The charity later attributed the reporting oversights to "clerical error." 

Since he left Kids Wish Network, Breiner has pursued a career raising money for a number of charities through a sweepstakes operation called Dream Giveaway, including the one he founded, Kids Wish Network.

Kids Wish Network and its lawyers have always denied in the strongest possible terms that the charity has ever done anything illegal. Neither the IRS nor any state or local agency has ever accused Kids Wish Network or the Breiners of breaking any laws.

The Breiners and their lawyers on the other hand have frequently accused News Channel Eight of misrepresenting how the charity operates in order to make it look bad and threatened legal action.

Last year the charity called police when I knocked on the door of its Holiday headquarters to ask questions and its lawyer threatened a possible lawsuit hours before we aired our first investigative story featuring the allegations of Meanda DuBay. 

Since 2004, the charity's managers and board members have by and large refused to discuss the charity's finances with us. None of them has ever gone on-camera for a news interview with us to answer questions about the business practices of Kids Wish Network. The charity did not respond Friday to a request for comment regarding the naming of Kids Wish as the worst charity in America.

But Karen Pelle, who was President of the Kids Wish Network Board when DuBay's allegations first surfaced last year, did send me a brief response in an email on January 18, 2012.

"This is a very generous charity that deserves only the best of information," Pelle wrote. "Negative or distorted energy only effects (sic) the many children that have benefited from their overwhelming generosity."

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