Company accused of deceiving residents in two Md. counties

April 17, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's secretary of state has accused a Florida-based company that solicits donations for charities of deceiving people in a recent telemarketing campaign in St. Mary's and Baltimore counties.

The firm, Allan C. Hill Productions Inc., offered free tickets to a dramatic production of "Beauty and the Beast," which was performed Wednesday at Leonardtown High School, in exchange for donations, Secretary of State Tyras S. Athey wrote in a letter to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., dated April 5. But "the tickets . . . were not free because a potential donor's receipt of 'free passes' was contingent upon the contribution of money to the charity," Mr. Athey said in asking Mr. Curran to investigate the company.

"There is a descending scale which provides that a certain number of 'free' passes would be given to a potential donor in exchange for a certain amount of money donated," Mr. Athey wrote.

The letter adds that another "Beauty and the Beast" show was held Friday night at the Parkville American Legion Post.

Phillip-Anthony Giordano, the executive director of Hill Productions in Sarasota, denied the allegations. He said the complaint is based on one person, and he said that everyone solicited is offered free passes to the show, regardless of whether they donate money. "That is a very shaky way to make an accusation against an entire company or organization," Mr. Giordano said.

The Florida company was soliciting money for Disabled Children's Relief Fund, a charity based in West Bayshore, N.Y., that was organized in 1990 but has yet to distribute money to any children's organizations, its president conceded.

The president, Kenneth A. Hutcheson, said he has sent more than 40 letters to hospitals asking them to apply for more than $190,000 in grants through his fund, which is registered in Maryland.

He said he plans to sever ties with Hill Productions because of the allegations and has delayed sending a grant application letter to the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore until the state concludes its investigation. He said his charity gets 12 percent of the money raised by Hill Productions.

"I feel that Maryland would be quite happy if Allan Hill Productions would not raise money in the state of Maryland," Mr. Hutcheson said yesterday.

The state also accused company solicitors of failing to identify themselves as paid fund-raisers, failing to offer to send people copies of the charity's financial statments and filing a copy of a solicitation letter that differs from the one actually used.

Mr. Athey also said the company asks people to send donations to an address in California, Md., which actually is a post office box service that forwards the money to Hill Productions in Florida. Mr. Athey's letter says the address should be that of the charity in New York.

"The prominent display of the California, Md., address . . . is a deceptive act because doing so has the capacity to deceive or mislead a person to believe that the Relief Fund has a local presence in Maryland from which it could provide services," the letter says.

In December 1992, two workers for Hill Productions were arrested in St. Mary's County and charged with misdemeanor theft and violations of the state's charitable organizations law. Authorities said they were illegally raising money by selling tickets to a production of "A Christmas Carol."

Police at the time called Hill Productions "a legitimate company" and said the two workers "ran astray in some way."

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