The Maryland Jaycees has cleared the Brooklyn Park Jaycees of any wrongdoing in its handling of a July fund-raiser for the funeral of a 5-year-old girl dying of a rare bone disease.
The organization had criticized its Brooklyn Park chapter for holding checks made out to the estate of Samantha Battaglia for six weeks before depositing them. In addition, the account set up to receive the money didn't have a proper charitable account tax identification number.
The Jaycees changed its position last week after an internal investigation.
"The fact of the matter is, unfortunately there was a clerical error, but it didn't dirty the event. It's still the same dollars. There's been no misappropriation of funds or malicious intent," said Robert McCoy, president of the Maryland Jaycees.
McCoy had promised last month to "use all available procedures" at his disposal to compel the Brooklyn Park chapter to straighten out its books and turn the money over to the family. He had suggested that it could lose its charter if it didn't cooperate.
But McCoy said last week that he would no longer try to pressure the chapter into handing the money over to a trust controlled by the family. He said it was Brooklyn Park's fund-raiser and the chapter has a right to control the money.
"Right, wrong or indifferent, sometimes a group gets territorial about the money it raises for a charity," he said.
McCoy said he made his decision in part because he believed the Jaycees deserved credit rather than blame for raising $4,300 "out of the goodness of their hearts." He also said the girl's family was as much to blame as the Jaycees, because it harangued the chapter's officers to the point where they abandoned their duties.
The dispute rose out of a strong personality conflict between officers of the Brooklyn Park Jaycees, a very small chapter that regularly conducts its chapter meetings in a local bar, and the mother, grandmother and grandfather of Samantha Battaglia, who has been given less than six months to live by her doctors.
The mother, Angela Cochran, admitted that she tends to "fly off the handle" and that she has lost her temper with the organizers of the fund-raiser on a number of occasions because of "the haphazard way they were running things."
Her dispute with the Brooklyn Park Jaycees -- principally treasurer Jeff Harmon -- stemmed from its spending $1,799 out of the proceeds on food, drink and entertainment when she thought they should have solicited donations of those goods.
After the money was spent, her main gripe became the "arrogant way" Harmon refused to place the money the chapter had raised in a legal trust, despite specific counsel from her attorney.
State law forbids unregistered charities such as the Brooklyn Park Jaycees from using any portion of the gross receipts from a fund-raiser to cover expenses. It also stipulates that trusts must be registered with the IRS, said Mirian Patterson, assistant secretary of state for Maryland.
Patterson said her agency, which regulates all charitable organizations in the state, is trying to "figure out an equitable solution" with the Brooklyn Park Jaycees' attorney.
"This was an unfortunate situation where people tried to be helpful but ran into a problem where they were not aware of the law," she said.
Harmon, who chaired the Battaglia fund-raiser, called the Maryland Jaycees' decision to support, rather than criticize, his chapter "good news" but said he was still upset that the parent organization had criticized the chapter in the first place. He continues to blame the Battaglias for the dispute.
Three months after a dance grossed more than $6,100 to pay for a fairy-tale funeral for Samantha, complete with six white horses and a white carriage, the girl's extended family has not seen a bank statement or any other evidence that a proper trust has been set up.
McCoy showed The Anne Arundel County Sun a bank statement indicating that $4,300 raised at the July 13 affair had been deposited into a non-interest-bearing account for "The Estate of Samantha Battaglia" on Aug.
The family was pleased to hear that the account existed but was not impressed with McCoy's defense of the Jaycees chapter.
"McCoy is looking out for the name of the Jaycees -- and I can understand that from his point of view -- but they have still made no effort to explain the situation to us. If he really wanted to resolve this, why did they go to (a reporter) and not us?" asked George Watson, Samantha's grandfather.
Harmon said he stopped dealing with the fund-raiser after the dance was over because of the confrontation with the family. He promised that the $4,300 would go toward paying Samantha's funeral expenses when the time comes but said he "would have to see the receipts first."
Janet Harding, vice president of community development for the Maryland Jaycees, who runs charity workshops for various chapters, says she now devotes half of those seminars to explaining how to avoid the legal and personal conflicts Brooklyn Park has had with the Battaglias.