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Mid-State Charity Called One of Nation's Worst - John Dunn

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FAIRVIEW, TN - It has been called one of the worst charities in the country, and it is in our own backyard.      

The Arthritis Trust of America has been around for more than 30 years, but you might be surprised to learn what they have to show for it. FOX 17 News had some tough questions for the charity's executive director about how he is spending your donations.

The first time most people hear about the Arthritis Trust of America, it is often in a letter promoting  a one-million dollar sweepstakes. What is not always clear is that the charity, where millions have been collected, is run out of a house in Fairview.
     
Recently, a Florida newspaper named the Arthritis Trust of America as one of the 50 worst charities in America. We spoke to the charity's executive director, and only employee, 88 year old Perry Chapdelaine.

First,  it is important to understand the charity's finances. According to IRS tax returns reviewed by FOX 17 News, donors have given the Arthritis Trust of America more than $8.3 million over the last decade, but little to no money has been spent on direct cash aid.

"The cost benefit ratio is a very false figure to use as a criteria," says executive director Perry Chapdelaine. Perry Chapdelaine says his charity formed in 1982 as a way to help people with rheumatoid diseases. These days, most of the doctors who helped form the organization are dead, and the charity's operations basically consist of a website...arthritistrust.org.

"Our website is primarily the charity device now to communicate with people, it didn't use to be, but it is now," says Chapdelaine.
 
But what about all of those millions of dollars raised? Chapdelaine says his primary expenses are running a home office, mailing books that he has written under a pseudonym,  paying himself up to $60,000 dollar a year, and paying Virginia-based professional solicitors up to 90% of every dollar collected.

"I don't think anybody ever gives a dollar to a charity thinking that 75 or 80 percent of it is going to administrative costs. I don't think that's what anybody wants to do," says Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

The Tennessee Secretary of State oversees the state's Division of Charitable Solicitations. He is very leery of charity's which are dependent on professional solicitors. "It kind of makes you wonder at some point how much of it is really about just the machine of raising money, as it is about what the real goal of spending that money is," says Sec. Hargett.

Secretary Hargett will not say if his office is currently investigating the Arthritis Trust of America but he warns that you must be careful with your charity dollars.

So besides the chance at winning a sweepstakes, your dollar gets you a website, which, again, is the main outlet for the charity. Chapdelaine points out it is full of helpful articles and links, but you should not expect much new content.. Chapdelaine tells us he is producing "very little" new content right now.

The Arthritis Trust of America will gladly accept your donation, but some may wonder if you can you trust it with your money.

Perry Chapdelaine says his charity funds a little arthritis research from time to time, but he told us he can't talk about it because it's happening "behind the scenes."
    
FOX 17 News also contacted the IRS. A spokesman tells us the charity is in good standing.

For news updates follow John Dunn on twitter @WZTVJohnDunn

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