A search of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and federal databases shows that none of the four charities Don Tollefson associated himself with when he solicited direct donations or through the sale of sports packages were ever registered as nonprofits.
And while those charities may not have had to be registered, the Bucks County District Attorney's Office, Warminster police and Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Charitable Organizations said this week that they are jointly investigating claims by area residents that Tollefson, 61, sold ticket packages for Eagles away games and other sports, but, at least in some cases, never provided the travel or tickets. Those buying the travel packages did so under the assumption they were purchasing them to benefit charity.
Heckler said today that he has assigned an assistant D.A. to the case with experience in white collar crime, but that the investigation is in its early stages. Heckler confirmed more complaints have been coming in the past few days.
Frank McLeod of Warminster, for example, said he purchased a ticket/travel package to the Eagles-Broncos game in Denver on Sept. 29. McLeod said he got involved through a local Warminster tavern that was helping Tollefson sell the travel packages for what they thought was charity.
"Not only did he cancel the Denver trip, and has yet to refund anyone, but he also cancelled a trip I had paid for to go to the [Oct. 13th] Tampa game," McLeod wrote in an email to Philly.com. "There were around 100 people who paid him for the Tampa trip (approx $25,000) and we can’t get a hold of him."
McLeod said in a separate phone interview that the loss of $500, while painful, is not that big of a deal. But he feels particularly bad since he convinced others to buy packages, including his wife's cousin. MacLeod paid for that second package through his credit card, which the cousin then reimbursed.
"I called Don Tollefson directly and gave him my charge card," MacLeod recalled. "It came over as PayPal to One Child Saved."
When MacLeod tried to reach Tollefson later, he was told he was in the hospital.
MacLeod said he has a friend who paid $6,000 through a Tollefson charity auction for a Super Bowl package in San Francisco in 2015. The friend is unable to reach Tollefson.
Tollefson, a former sportscaster on 6ABC and Fox29, could not be reached Friday for comment. A voice mail left on a phone number at a residence he owns was not returned.
According to state charity registration databases in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Tollefson never registered a charity known as One Child. Nor, is it registered with the IRS as a nonprofit. Under IRS rules, those seeing federal, tax-exempt, nonprofit status, otherwise known as 501(c)(3) status, must file first with their respective status. None of three other charities associated with Tollefson - Winning Ways, Employ Young Adults, and Tackle Hatred Now are registered.
It's possible the charities did not have to register.
In Pennsylvania, for example, where Tollefson seemed to conduct most of his charitable work, charities and their fundraisers requesting donations are required to register with the Department of State's Bureau of Charitable Organizations before they begin activities. Charitable organizations raising less than $25,000 annually are not required to register if they do not pay anyone to raise funds on their behalf. But organizations soliciting money from the public still must comply with the Commonwealth's Charities and Consumer Protection Law, both of which prohibit misrepresentation.
As a result, it's difficult to find information on Tollefson's charities. A website for his Employ Young Adults operation, www.employyoungadults.com <http://www.employyoungadults.com> , indicates his operations were folded together. Most registered charities use a “.org” domain, rather than a “.com”.
"Help us honor the children of One Child Saved & Winning Ways," says a message on the home page of the Employ Young Adults website. "Your donation will help so much with our respect camps, scholarship programs & our partnership with the United States military."
It's unclear what that partnership is from the website. But the message continued: "In particular we are working with great Wounded Warriors like …,” and names a Pennsylvania native severely injured by an IED in Afghanistan. The Marine could not immediately be reached for comment.
It is not clear if Tollefson was suggesting an association with a Wounded Warriors organization. There are at least 10 nonprofits nationally and locally combined with the words Wounded Warriors in their name. One Pennsylvania-based group reported it did not work with Tollefson.
The Employ Young Adults website accepts credit card and PayPal donations, and lists a P.O. Box in Philadelphia, but does not list an address or contact information, other than a form for prospective donors.
Tollefson also has at least one other website soliciting donations, TixR4Kids.com, which says, ”it was founded in 2011 by longtime Philadelphia sportscaster and community activist DON TOLLEFSON. There should not be unused tickets to sporting events that could be used by inner-city youngsters. Many of these youngsters have never been to a college or pro sporting event.”
"Whether you are able to donate tickets or money or both, we are very thankful for your support!!"
Beneath that passage on the web site is a button to make a donation.
TixR4Kids is not registered as a charity in Pennsylvania.