Authorities crack down on charities claiming to benefit veterans, including Spanaway nonprofit

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed two lawsuits on Thursday as part of a nationwide sweep targeting charities claiming to benefit veterans.

Ferguson filed two lawsuits: one against Spanaway-based Fallen Hero Bracelets and a second against Florida nonprofit Healing Heroes Network.

Both are part of a coordinated effort by the Federal Trade Commission and National Association of State Charities Officials.

Ferguson alleges that Fallen Hero Bracelets and its director, Michael Friedmann, misled customers into believing their purchases were benefiting veterans associations. The group did not provide any funds to those organizations, Ferguson said.

“These organizations used the promise of improving veterans’ lives to mislead donors,” Ferguson said. “Their illegal actions are not only disrespectful to donors, but also to the veterans they claim to help.”

The attorney general's office gave this account of the nonprofit:

"Fallen Hero Bracelets sells bracelets engraved with names of soldiers killed in action, along with hats, pins, badges, coins and pens. Its website claims that the proceeds from these purchases will be used to help veterans, including providing scholarships to children of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, giving trained service dogs to soldiers suffering from severe PTSD and helping families dealing with separation and divorce. The website lists 40 organizations that it says benefit from sales.

The website claims that Fallen Hero Bracelets has made over 1.2 million sales worldwide.

Friedmann also uses websites for his other nonprofit, The Benjamin Foundation, also doing business as The Roberts Ridge Foundation, to make the same claims.

However, Fallen Hero Bracelets allegedly has not provided any scholarships, trained service dogs or assistance to families, nor has it given any money to any of its 40 claimed beneficiaries.  

In addition to not providing any money to charity, Friedmann has been known to sue customers who complain about slow delivery. For example, a consumer in Washington bought a $40 t-shirt on Friedmann’s website. When she did not receive her purchase for more than 60 days, she complained to her credit union. Her credit union then sent a chargeback notice to Friedmann.

Friedmann eventually sent the shirt. The consumer returned it, wanting her money back. Next, Friedmann reported the customer to four different collection agencies, which promptly dropped the collection efforts after the consumer showed proof of the return. He then sued the consumer for $1,182.50 and the credit union for $5,000 in small claims court.

The Attorney General’s Office received 11 complaints concerning Fallen Hero Bracelets, almost all of which referenced the same conduct by Friedmann: delivery delays, being unable to contact Friedmann regarding order status and harassment as a result of consumers complaining or returning items.

In correspondence with customers, Friedmann calls himself the “chief legal officer” of his nonprofit. He is not and never has been an attorney.

Friedmann uses an emblem similar to that used by the well-known Better Business Bureau, claiming that Fallen Hero Bracelets is accredited and has an A+ rating from the Business Bureau of America. The Business Bureau of America does not appear to exist. Fallen Hero Bracelets is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau and has an F rating.

Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed in Pierce County Superior Court, alleges Friedmann violated the Consumer Protection Act and Charitable Solicitations Act by failing to benefit veterans as claimed by the Fallen Hero Bracelets website and by retaliating against and suing aggrieved consumers. Ferguson asks the court to require Fallen Hero Bracelets to end its deceptive conduct, provide restitution to affected consumers, impose penalties of up to $2,000 per violation and pay attorney costs and fees."

The FTC says to look for three things to make sure a charity is legitimate: