Suit alleges anti-clergy sex abuse group got kickbacks from lawyers

Boston Globe

By Michael Rezendes GLOBE STAFF JANUARY 26, 2017

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a leading voice in the campaign against clergy sexual abuse, is facing a wrongful-termination lawsuit from a former fund-raiser who says the group “accepts financial kickbacks” from lawyers who represent survivors they find through the organization.

The lawsuit against St. Louis-based SNAP, which provides counseling for victims of clerical sex abuse, says that fund-raiser Gretchen Rachel Hammond was terminated after she raised concerns about money the group received from lawyers representing SNAP members.

“Instead of recommending that survivors pursue what is in their best personal, emotional, and financial interest, SNAP pressures survivors to pursue costly and stressful litigation against the Catholic Church,” the lawsuit says.

Barbara Dorris, SNAP’s outreach director, said the allegation of a kickback scheme between the organization and attorneys who represent its members is untrue.

“We haven’t ever done it, and we won’t do it. It’s absolutely untrue,” she said, noting that “there’s nothing illegal, unethical, or immoral about accepting donations from attorneys.” …

Phil Saviano, a former SNAP board member and founder of the group’s New England Chapter, said the organization has no arrangement under which SNAP makes referrals to attorneys in return for donations.

“If there is a plan, it’s been poorly organized, because as long as I’ve been involved with them they’ve been hurting for money,” Saviano said.

The nonprofit group’s most recent disclosure to the IRS says it had just over $100,000 on hand at the close of 2014. At the time, Clohessy was receiving a salary of $86,000, as was president Barbara Blaine.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who has represented clergy abuse survivors for two decades, said he was puzzled by the filing earlier this month because SNAP has relatively few assets.

“I have to wonder why this lawsuit was filed, given that SNAP would not have any funds to pay a judgment favorable to the plaintiff,” he said. …

At one point, the lawsuit says, SNAP “concocted a scheme” to conceal donations from attorneys by encouraging them to make donations to a “front foundation” called the Minnesota Center for Philanthropy, which in turn would make grants to SNAP.

The Globe could not find a charitable organization with that name but Hammond’s lawyer, Chicago attorney Bruce C. Howard, said it’s possible that plans to start the center never got off the ground. The existence of the alleged scheme, he said, is confirmed by documents retained by Hammond while working for SNAP.

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