Alleged worship ties and ‘F’ watchdog rating: Moving donation bin company raises questions

Planet Aid, Inc.’s sunny yellow donation bins brought in during moving season may look inviting, but their appearance masks a company with ties to an alleged cult, a poor charity watchdog rating and a history of lawsuits from investigative publications.

University Facilities and services has partnered with Planet Help for its annual Move-Out Cleanout event since the initiative was conceived in 2009, according to a 2010 study Publish excerpt from the blog on the sustainability of facilities and services The green dandelion. Since the start of the partnership, students have donated approximately 95 tonnes of clothing and shoes to Planet Aid in the bins they place on campus and around university accommodation during the spring move.

Courtesy of Justin O’Connor, Editor-in-Chief

However, the company was subject to a podcast and series of investigative articles published by Reveal of the Center for Investigative Reporting throughout 2016 and 2017. reports located Planet Aid within a network of charities run by Mogens Amdi Petersen, the founder of a secret Danish organization called Teachers Group which “former members, academics and the Danish media have likened to a cult” , reported Reveal. AMDi is currently a international fugitive Wanted in Denmark for aggravated embezzlement and aggravated tax evasion.

Evidence from an initial Danish investigation of Petersen’s group of teachers in the 1990s and early 2000s was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2002, Reveal reported. An intern FBI report published by Reveal included Planet Aid in a list of charities in the alleged Petersen fraud operation.

“Tvind [another name for the Teachers Group] derives income from the establishment of development aid organizations,” the FBI report states. “The money is raised through the collection of used clothes. The clothes are recycled and sold in third world countries. The proceeds are sent to charitable trust funds established in offshore tax havens. A number of these groups operate in the United States. They include: UFF, Development Aid from People to People, Humana People to People, Institute of International Cooperation and Development and Planet Aid. […] In each of these organizations, the funds are ultimately controlled by captioned subjects who divert the money for personal gain. Little or no money goes to charity.

Reveal reported that Denmark barred the group of Petersen teachers from public funds for a period of time, and that there are now “support groups for ex-members who meet and try to give a meaning to the years they lost to this man”.

“By the late 1990s, officials say, Petersen’s organization operated charities, private businesses and financial shells in at least 55 countries,” Reveal wrote. “These organisations, according to US and Danish law enforcement authorities, comprise a network of financial fronts with dozens of overlapping front companies in the British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Cayman Islands and the United States. least half a dozen other offshore jurisdictions”.

Reveal’s extensive reporting also covered an alleged complex relationship between Petersen’s charity network (including, allegedly, Planet Aid) and US humanitarian aid to African countries. However, a court ruling called into question much of this part of their coverage.

In August 2016, six months after Reveal released the podcast that launched their series, Planet Aid filed a libel suit against the non-profit newsroom which was resolved on August 11 this year when the Court of Justice appeal from the U.S. Ninth Circuit asserted with prejudice dismissal of the suit by a lower court.

The first one decision by the United States District Court for the Northern District Court of California ruled in favor of Reveal, but found that Planet Aid “has discharged its obligation to prove the falsity” of many of Reveal’s statements, all relating to the alleged misappropriation and misuse of USDA money for the company for projects across Africa. The court also found, on the other hand, that Planet Aid had not borne this burden with respect to Reveal’s reports of the company’s aforementioned links to government investigations or Petersen.

Planet Aid contradicted the statements in court using testimony from several employees and affiliates and relevant documents despite, as Reveal claimsReveal reporters gave the company ample opportunity to release statements or present rebuttal evidence to the story while it was in progress.

In 2019, Reveal took the floor about the lawsuit, arguing that it was an attempt to financially harm their organization, consistent with other defamation cases against newsrooms. They compared it to Bollea v. Gawker, in which billionaire Peter Thiel funded an expensive libel suit against Gawker Media that effectively put them out of business.

“Planet Aid’s actions in its lawsuit against Reveal are a clear example of what deep-pocketed interests can do to a news organization even when the facts are on the side of the reporters,” Reveal wrote. “[…] Of note, Planet Aid leveled its legal firepower only on Reveal, a modestly sized nonprofit journalism organization, rather than going after the wider network of newsrooms that contributed to and distributed our reporting on Planet Aid, including the BBC and NBC Washington.

In addition to the allegations reported by Reveal, CharityWatcha non-profit watchdog charity, has gave Planet Aid an F rating for a number of years based on their manual audit of 501(c)3 tax returns.

CharityWatch argues that Planet Aid’s expenses for collecting and processing donations, which the company reports as program expenses, actually qualify as fundraising because “expenses that a charity incurs to collecting donations, whether the donations are in the form of cash or non-cash items such as donated clothing, are fundraising expenses, not program expenses.

“The most damning evidence against Planet Aid’s financial reporting logic comes from the charity itself,” CharityWatch continued. “This charity does not distribute the vast majority of the clothing and other goods it collects to people in need – it sells the items. In 2020, Planet Aid raised over $22 million from the sale of these This proves that there is a ready market of buyers willing and able to pay large sums of money to buy second-hand clothes, shoes and textiles like the ones Planet Aid collects. charity to claim that items worth tens of millions of dollars would end up in a landfill if Planet Aid did not collect them.

Amy Kadrie, the university’s sustainability coordinator who started and runs the Move-Out Cleanout program, said she had vague knowledge of the allegations against Planet Aid because students had reported them to her in the past.

“I’ve heard different allegations from time to time,” she said. “From what we have reviewed, nothing has been proven. Planet Aid has not been wrongfully condemned for anything.

She pointed to the company statement on the lower court’s findings of falsity as evidence, acknowledging that she did not have in-depth knowledge of the situation when presented with the fact that the ruling did not ignore all of Reveal’s reports and that Petersen and his associates had fled extradition as the case against them was appealed, hampering attempts to submit all of this information for a court ruling.

Planet Help New York The office and warehouse are located in Rochester, and Kadrie said the University continues to work with Planet Aid as they have been able to handle regular pickups and the scale of the moving program. They have already worked once with Goodwill Industriesbut she said Goodwill was unable to handle the volume by University standards.

“If we were to reevaluate and ultimately decide not to continue our partnership with Planet Aid, honestly, I don’t know if we have a better option,” Kadrie said. “We haven’t found any yet. Unless we can get more support from the University, where University staff could get more involved, and I’ve never heard of that option being on the table. It’s a very small program […] That’s a lot of clothing collected, but little compared to what other universities do where there’s more presidential support at the top and leadership. So we are dependent on our charity partners to handle their share of things.

Kadrie said ending the relationship with Planet Aid would effectively mean the shoes and clothes would go to landfill unless the removal program could get more support to increase its funding and staff to help further. other partners to receive donations.

“There are no dollars going into it, it’s just my efforts in partnership with organizations. […] We are a very decentralized university. I work for facilities and services, so it would have to come from someone’s budget, and I don’t know. We would need another department to step in and help us. Or, if it is centrally funded, which many things are not [UR]it’s our decentralized nature, so it would really be a presidential decision or a leadership decision.

But she also said the conversation about increasing funding for sustainability team programs is often a dead end.

“It’s a discussion that never goes anywhere, to be honest with you,” Kadrie said. ” We had a Sustainability Council it was at the University. It wasn’t really funded and it didn’t really have power. So we have been work on a sustainability plan, and the goal is for it to be signed by the president. Right now, if you go to another department and say, “We need this done,” they’ll say, “Well, why? because they don’t have it in their budget. But if we had a presidential plan with real goals, then that would be a higher priority for other departments. […] It may or may not affect this specific program, because there’s so much going on when it comes to sustainability, but it’s not irrelevant.

Planet Aid’s Rochester office initially provided a phone number via email, but did not respond to multiple follow-up interview requests.

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