Theater shooting victims request investigation of Giving First foundation

AURORA, Colo. - Families of several victims of the Aurora theater shooting have sent a letter asking the Colorado Attorney General and Secretary of State to investigate Giving First, a charity that collected more than $5 million in the wake of the mass shooting.

The letter from 24 families is the latest move in the ongoing dispute between the families and Giving First. In August, several of the same families made a public statement demanding they have a say in how the money collected by the charity is distributed.

The request, on letterhead from the Malman Law Firm, asks the charity be investigated for violations of the Colorado Charitable Solicitations Act. It also requests that everyone be stopped from using the names and photos of the shooting victims until written permission is provided by the victim or family.

The letter said Giving First and the Community First Foundation has used the names and photos of the victims without authorization. It also alleges that the organization implied the donations would provide direct assistance to the victims and their families.

The letter quotes Colorado Revised Statue 6-16-111(1), saying that an organization commits charitable fraud if it "utilizes the name or symbol of another person or organization without written authorization."

Permission was not granted for Giving First, the letter said.

The families also requested the investigation check whether donations for the shooting were commingled with general funds of the foundation.

The Colorado Attorney General's Office would neither confirm nor deny an investigation. A spokeswoman did confirm receipt of the letter this afternoon.

Twelve people were killed in the shooting at the Aurora Century 16 theater and 58 others were injured.

Mediator Ken Feinberg is assigned to resolving the dispute over the funds. The Governor's office said he has scheduled public meetings with the victims for Thursday and Friday in Aurora.

The intent of the meetings is to gather input about the appropriate ways to disperse the funds.

Both meetings will be held at the Aurora Public Library, at 14949 E. Alameda Parkway. On Thursday the meeting will be between 7 and 9 p.m. The Friday meeting will be from 9 to 11 a.m.

GivingFirst.org will stop collecting funds on October 15. Until November 15, donations by check can still be submitted to the Governor's office.

All claims from the victims and their families are due to be submitted to Feinberg by Nov. 1. For the next nine days, Feinberg will be meeting with the victims and families.

Feinberg will make the final decisions and the money will be dispersed sometime after Nov. 15. An audit of the fund will begin immediately after the distribution.

The Governor's office said final payment determinations and money will be dispersed as soon as possible after Nov. 15. An independent audit of the fund will commence immediately after the final distribution.

Community First Foundation sent the following statement to 7NEWS Wednesday:

Community First Foundation is honored to serve our community and the victims of the Aurora theatre shooting by faithfully processing money donated to the Aurora Victim Relief Fund.  All money collected, either online or via check/money order, is and will continue to go directly into the Aurora Victim Relief Fund.

Community First Foundation realizes that every donation is a gift.  We are obligated to honor the intentions of our donors by delivering each gift to the recipient identified by the donor.  When we cannot meet the donor’s expectation, we return the money to the donor. 

Of the $5.4 million raised by the Aurora Victim Relief Fund, $100,000 was distributed in the form of matching grants to COVA, Aurora Mental Health and eight other nonprofits working with victims. The donors who contributed this $100,000 asked us to use their donations in this way to encourage others to give.  An additional $405,000 has been distributed from the Aurora Victim Relief Fund to the victims in the form of cash assistance.  The remaining funds will be distributed by Special Master Kenneth Feinberg.

Feinberg is an expert specializing in compensation disbursement. He has been retained by White House administrations to run the 9/11 fund and BP Oil Spill settlement. He handled the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund at Virginia Tech University and was recently hired by Penn State University to settle personal injury claims related to former Coach Jerry Sandusky.

Community First Foundation realizes our transparency maintains faith - not only in the giving process - but also among the organizations and individuals who are the recipients of that generosity.  To that end, the board of directors of the Community First Foundation is engaging an independent auditor to conduct an audit of the Aurora Victim Relief Fund.  This development has previously been announced to our donors, to the news media and to the victims.  This audit will cover all transactions and will commence upon the distribution of the fund. 

Community First Foundation is honored to participate in this endeavor to help our community heal from the painful events of July 20th.  We look forward to cooperating with the Fund distribution process. 

For additional information regarding this matter, please refer to the following statement from the Governor’s Office:

“Community First Foundation, like so many other organizations and individuals, stepped up at a time when our community was in crisis. Community First Foundation agreed to handle the Aurora Victim Relief Fund without taking any fees or reimbursement for their costs. We have complete confidence in the integrity of the organization and how it has handled the fund. Many victims and their families have already benefited from the foundation’s efforts and even more will benefit in the coming weeks.”