SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) - Planet Aid, a nonprofit charity that recycles clothing to raise money for the poor, claims another nonprofit is stealing its collection bins, and that when it caught Helping Hands PA red-handed, and complained, Helping Hands' executive director told it, "Business is business."
In its federal complaint, Planet Aid claims that "Helping Hands removed Planet Aid's bins from at least fourteen (14) sites in Connecticut," then took the bins "to a gated warehouse complex in New Jersey," where people scraped off the paint and barcode.
Planet Aid says its employee Ricardo Rivera "observed a Planet Aid bin located inside the warehouse and witnessed two men attempting to scrape the paint and barcode off the bin. Rivera approached the workers who were defacing the bin and told them that the bin belonged to Planet Aid and that they did not have permission to remove the paint.
"The two men acted nervously and promised they would return the bin to Rivera if he did not call the police. Once the bin was back in Planet Aid's possession, several Planet Aid employees noticed that the bin's proprietary barcode numbers were removed and a majority of the paint had been scraped off," according to the complaint.
Planet Aid says its New Jersey operations manager then went to the New Jersey warehouse, accompanied by a police officer, to ask where the bin came from. The manager spoke with an employee of Helping Hands, who admitted taking bins from Planet Aid for Helping Hands.
The employee, "Mike" "refused to identify the senior leadership of Helping Hands, simply stating that Planet Aid would have to deal with him regarding the collection bin issue," the complaint states.
After this exchange, Planet Aid says, it got a phone call from a towing company that claimed Planet Aid owed it $4,775 for "the removal and transportation of clothing recycling bins from Bridgeport, CT to Elizabeth, NJ."
"The address for Precise Moving was the same Elizabeth, NJ address as the warehouse where Rivera witnessed the defacing of the stolen Planet Aid bin," the complaint states.
It adds: "According to the Offices of the Secretaries of State in New Jersey and Connecticut, Precise Moving does not exist as an entity and did not exist as such at the time it contacted Planet Aid."
Four days after getting the phone call from Precise Moving, Planet Aid says, it "received a call from an individual named Xavier McCombs, Jr. ('McCombs'), who identified himself as the executive director of Helping Hands."
McCombs said "that he hired Precise Moving to remove the Planet Aid bins only after first contacting Planet Aid," but Planet said says it never got a call or a message about such a thing.
Planet Aid told McCombs "that Helping Hands had no right or authority to remove Planet Aid's bins, to which McCombs stated, 'Business is business' and the conversation ended," according to the complaint.
A week later, "Planet Aid received a letter from McCombs written on Helping Hands' stationary. The letter stated that Precise Moving had 14 Planet Aid bins in its possession and demanded payment for the return of the bins. The letter further stated that if Planet Aid did not pay within five (5) business days, Precise Moving would dispose of Planet Aid's property," the complaint states.
Planet Aid says that neither Helping Hands nor Precise Moving responded to a cease-and-desist letter, and it says that "at the same time Helping Hands was improperly removing Planet Aid's bins in Connecticut, Helping Hands was engaging in similarly deceitful conduct in California. ...
"To Planet Aid's knowledge, Helping Hands has perpetrated this fraud upon at least five (5) Planet Aid collection sites in California."
Planet Aid says it operates its nonprofit business by placing its collection bins "at various locations throughout the United States in which members of the public can leave used clothing and other items. Planet Aid then recycles the clothing to help fund projects addressing health, education, food production and income generation in Third World countries.
Planet Aid demands an injunction and damages for theft, trespass, interference, conversion, and unfair trade. It is represented by Charles Thomas with Thomas, Long, Niesen & Kennard of Harrisburg.
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