POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Authorities say a Winter Haven man raised money for veterans only to line his own pockets.
Chris Edwards, 49, was the man behind “Power to our Vets,” a so-called charity that he claims helped veterans with their electric bills by selling solar power to Bay area companies.
Edwards built an online presence with social media accounts and even built a bogus website to promote multiple events, according to State Attorney Brian Haas.
“There was never a real charity, it was just a complete scam. He had folks giving money, donating items for raffles, doing all kinds of events where he thought that he had everyone fooled,” said Haas.
Haas claims Edwards failed to award prizes after the events and raffles and for at least a year, he managed to fool donors and veterans.
“He was not a 501C3. He just continued to mislead people and took advantage of a feeling in our society of wanting to help veterans. And he prayed on that,” Haas told News Channel 8.
Investigators say Edwards deposited the money he collected for the charity into his own bank accounts. In March 2016, he held a raffle for a Harley Davidson motorcycle and likely sold thousands of dollars in ticket sales, but the winner could not claim his prize, despite paying a sales tax on the bike. In November, he held the same raffle and the same person won, but again, never received the prize.
“He was very charismatic, had a great personality. He was trustworthy, so it seemed,” said Casey McKibben, a General Manager with McKibben Powersport Honda.
McKibben donated money and let him post flyers and sell raffle tickets at the dealership. The dealership even donated the 2016 motorcycle for one of Edwards’ raffles. The motorcycle has been sitting at the dealership for more than a year.
“We pay daily for each unit that sits here on the floor so by us keeping that bike for over a year, we probably lost a few thousand dollars,” McKibben said. “It’s disappointing to see people taking advantage of people that really need our help. There’s nothing worse than hurting someone that is there risking their life.”
The state attorney office said Edwards stole thousands of dollars from various donors. Investigators were only able to identify $46 that was actually donated to a veteran by Edwards. But officials say there could be other victims. Those who they could have been scammed should contact the state attorney’s office and speak with Steve Menge, an investigator, at (863) 534-4920.
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