Published in the Gallup Independent, Gallup, N.M., Sept. 29, 2012
St. Bonaventure fundraising firm under national scrutiny
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
THOREAU — Officials at St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School have until Wednesday to turn over an extensive list of documents to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.
According to a letter released Thursday by the Attorney General’s Office, the state has launched an inquiry into St. Bonaventure’s tax exempt status and its business relationship with professional fundraising companies, particularly the New York direct-marketing company Quadriga Art.
“It has come to our attention that your client, St. Bonaventure School and Mission, a charitable organization, may be in significant debt to at least one professional fundraiser,” Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Korsmo wrote to Andrew G. Schultz, the mission’s Albuquerque attorney, in a letter dated Sept. 13.
Citing the New Mexico attorney general’s legal authority and the state’s Charitable Trust Act, Korsmo, who heads the attorney general’s Consumer Division, requested a lengthy list of documents and information concerning St. Bonaventure’s tax exempt status, revenue and expenses, board members and top salaried employees, and contracts with all fundraising companies.
According to a CNN report that aired Tuesday on “Anderson Cooper 360,” the news network alleges that until quite recently St. Bonaventure’s mission owed more than $5 million to Quadriga Art after signing a fundraising contract with the company in 2008. CNN alleges Quadriga Art’s fundraising campaign generated more than $9 million in donations but passed very little of that money on to St. Bonaventure.
In a series of reports on Quadriga Art and its subsidiaries, CNN claims that at least 11 nonprofit organizations have found themselves buried in debt to Quadriga Art for professional fundraising services. It also claims that at least two nonprofits — St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School being one — saw their debt to Quadriga Art forgiven after CNN began investigating their contracts with the company.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, which includes New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman as a member, is also conducting an investigation into Quadriga Art’s business dealings with at least one of its nonprofit clients.
According to a Senate Finance Committee news release dated May 23, the committee opened an investigation “into the potential abuses of tax-exempt nonprofit status by the Disabled Veterans National Foundation” through its fundraising ties to Quadriga Art.
“According to tax records, DVNF raised tens of millions of dollars over a two year period, yet reports indicate very little of the money went to directly help disabled veterans. Instead, DVNF apparently paid large sums to Quadriga Art in 2009 and 2010,” the release states.
“In order to qualify for tax exempt status, section 501(c)(3) organizations … must be operated primarily for charitable purposes and must not engage in transactions that benefit private interests or organizations insiders,” the release states.
New Hampshire address
When contacted Thursday, Quadriga Art public relations official Melissa Schwartz claimed “CNN didn’t deliver an accurate portrayal” of her company’s relationship with St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School. Schwartz refused to answer any questions about its fundraising contract with St. Bonaventure but repeatedly referred questions to St. Bonaventure officials who could “speak to the value” of Quadriga Art fundraising services.
Schwartz also declined to answer questions about Quadriga Art’s use of a New Hampshire post office box direct-mail “caging address” to solicit donations for St. Bonaventure. Several online charity consumer complaints reference unsolicited donation appeals for St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School using a Wilton, N.H. post office box address.
According to its website, Brickmill Marketing Services, a subsidiary of Quadriga Art, has a business location in Wilton, N.H.
In one online obituary, the family of an Oregon woman who died three years ago requested that donations in her memory be made to St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School. However, the family listed the direct-mail marketing address in Wilton, N.H., not the mission’s actual post office box in Thoreau. And on a direct-mail website, St. Bonaventure’s mailing list appears to be marketed for sale to direct-mail marketing companies.
Although Schwartz repeatedly referred all questions to officials at St. Bonaventure, repeated phone and email messages left Wednesday and Thursday for the mission’s attorney and its executive director Christopher Halter were not returned.
Navajo Nation Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie is a member of St. Bonaventure’s Board of Trustees. When contacted Thursday, Yazzie said he would contact the mission’s executive director and attorney and ask them to return the calls. They did not.
Although St. Bonaventure’s is located in the Diocese of Gallup, Gallup diocesan attorney James “Jay” Mason said Wednesday the Gallup Diocese was unaware of the situation until about 10 days ago when contacted by CNN.
Mason, the only local official to speak directly to the media, said the diocese was obtaining copies of documents pertaining to St. Bonaventure and fundraising.
“Debt is not owed,” Mason said, adding that St. Bonaventure no longer had a contract with Quadriga Art. He also said that didn’t mean the situation was resolved.
“We’re continuing our investigation,” Mason said.
On Thursday, Gallup Bishop issued an official statement: “The Diocese of Gallup very recently became aware of the details of St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School’s fund raising agreement with Quadriga Art/Brickmill Studios, Inc. The Diocese is not a party to that agreement. The Diocese understands that St. Bonaventure has now terminated its fund raising agreement with Quadriga Art/Brickmill Studios, Inc. The Diocese does not have all of the facts and accordingly, will refrain from further comment pending future developments.”
Reporter Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 870-0745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.