Bogus Charity Men Whacked but Good

     AUSTIN (CN) – Texas fined directors of a phony charity more than $2 million for taking donations under false claims they would pay money to families of slain state troopers.
     The settlement resolves Attorney General Greg Abbott’s enforcement action against The Texas Highway Patrol Association, which will have its assets liquidated by a receiver with proceeds going to families who never got the $10,000 benefit they were promised.
     Abbott sued the organization in December after his office’s investigation of credit card statements showed the defendant’s members spent more than $400,000 in donated money on video games, movies, tickets to Sea World and Six Flags, airfare to Germany, hotel bills in Napa Valley, and “exorbitant vet bills” for an office cat.
     By using a name that illegally included “Texas Highway Patrol” and decals deceptively similar to the badge used by the real Highway Patrol, the organization tricked people into thinking they were associated with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
     The THPA raised money through bogus telephone pitches, claiming they provided “trooper benefits” including “a monetary benefit of $10,000 to the survivors of any trooper who is killed in the line of duty,” and a $2,500 “funeral benefit,” Texas said in its complaint.
     The THPA’s executive vice president Timothy Tierney admitted he used cash donations to throw birthday parties for staff members, Texas said.
     Tierney, who was paid an annual salary of more than $200,000, also admitted that although he was in charge of the organization’s bills he did not keep track of his receipts, and never made employees give him receipts to verify their charges were for business expenses, Texas added.
     Tierney also admitted using donations to keep an office cat healthy.
     “Tierney keeps an ‘office cat’ at the Oakland Avenue location in Austin and freely admits that he pays for the expenses of the cat, including exorbitant vet bills, with money donated by the public for the purpose of helping slain troopers’ families. … Tierney states that it is important to keep his employees happy and that is how he justifies having the office cat as a reasonable and prudent business expense,” Texas said, as Courthouse News reported at the time.
     In its December enforcement action, Texas also sued THPA-affiliates the Texas Highway Patrol Museum and THPA Services, and 10 directors, including Tierney.
     Abbott secured an asset freeze against the THPA. The settlement was filed Tuesday in Travis County Probate Court.
     Under the settlement, a receiver will liquidate the THPA’s assets and property, and after surviving family members are paid the $10,000 they were promised, the rest of the money will be donated to the Texas Department of Public Safety Foundation and the Department of Public Safety Historical Museum and Research Foundation, which will dole it out to slain troopers’ family members, Abbott said in a statement.
     The settlement imposed a $1 million civil penalty against THPA director Kenneth Denton, $500,000 each against its vice president Timothy Tierney and director Ruben Villalva Jr. and $10,000 against director Steven Jenkins.
     If the directors comply with the settlement, however, and pay off balances on the THPA’s credit cards, their penalties will be reduced to a total of $7,500, according to the settlement.
     The settlement prohibits the directors from any involvement with law-enforcement related organizations.

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