State wants to shut down local charity

January 29, 1994|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

For the first time, the state attorney general's office is seeking an injunction to shut down a Maryland charity and to force its directors to repay donations allegedly used for such expenditures as airfare, electronic equipment, parking tickets and a for-profit business.

Three people affiliated with Gopal Charities Food for Life Inc. could be barred from soliciting donations in Maryland for up to two years if an Anne Arundel County circuit judge grants the injunction sought by the state. No hearing date has been set for the case.

"We've given this group every chance," Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said yesterday.

"In reviewing [financial statements], it just shows that the money collected didn't go for the stated purpose. Some of the money did, but large sums did not," he said.

The individuals named in the request for an injunction -- Albert and Donna Rheiner of Linthicum, and Deepak Patel of Catonsville -- could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Curran said the state asked for an audit of the charity, which was incorporated in Maryland in 1987, after it repeatedly failed to file financial reports required by state law.

According to the audit, Mr. Curran said, Gopal paid off credit card bills, purchased plane tickets for two Florida trips, made cash advances to individuals and set up a produce business with money intended for its charitable mission, feeding the hungry. More than $10,000 may have been used for noncharitable purposes, state officials said.

The complaint against Gopal also alleges the charity misrepresented itself, claiming it was raising money for better-known charities such as Bea Gaddy's, and that it filed false financial information with the state.

Under state law, a charity that solicits more than $25,000 in Maryland is required to register and file its tax returns. The secretary of state's office maintains that Gopal has been over that limit since 1988, although its financial records indicate far more modest donations.

Much of the money comes from 350 cans placed at businesses throughout the state.

"We just want any business that has a canister to be aware of this," said Alicia Moran, a spokesman for Secretary of State Tyras S. Athey.

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