Telemarketers Got Bulk of Money Donated for Slain Dallas Officers

A Dallas Morning News investigation found that families of the five Dallas cops slain in July, 2016 received only 22 percent of the $3.2 million donated to two charities set up to help them. The rest went to telemarketing firms.

After five police officers were gunned down in Dallas in July, 2016, tens of thousands of people from around the world reached out to help the widows and children of the slain men.

As donations flooded into City Hall, officials struggling to organize and distribute it initially turned to the Assist the Officer Foundation, a long established charity run by the Dallas Police Association, to handle the cash and checks. But in the years since the killings, millions ended up at two other charities — the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation and the Texas Fallen Officer Foundation — run by a charismatic but largely unknown police sergeant named Demetrick Pennie.

Most of that money never made it to fallen officers’ families, according to a Dallas Morning News investigation.

The newspaper found that the bulk of it went to three telemarketing companies, one of which is owned by Pennie’s friend. Tens of thousands of dollars went straight into Pennie’s pocket.

Officers’ families received only 22 percent of the $3.2 million donated to Pennie’s two charities in 2016 and 2017, according to the groups’ most recent IRS filings.

“Pennie’s expenditures run counter to best practices established by the Better Business Bureau that recommend charities spend no more than $35 of every $100 from donors on fundraising costs such as telemarketers,” the newspaper said.

Last year, for every $100 donated to Pennie’s Texas Fallen Officer Foundation, just $5 went to families, while $74 went to telemarketers, $15 to cash reserves and $6 to travel, meals and expenses for Pennie and his team.

The figures for the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation were slightly better. For every $100 donated last year, $10 went to fallen officers’ families, while $48 went to telemarketers, $25 to cash reserves and $17 to travel, salaries and other expenses.

The bureau says at least 65 percent of a nonprofit’s spending should go toward its core mission. Last year, the Texas Fallen Officer Foundation and the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation allocated just 6 percent and 13 percent of their spending, respectively, toward helping families.

In interviews, Pennie defended his salary, saying it allows him to dedicate more than 20 hours per week to his charity work. He also defended his spending on fundraising, saying his nonprofits are only a few years old, so telemarketing is a cost-effective way to bring in money that otherwise wouldn’t be raised. He said the telemarketing companies bear all the cost of the work, and his charities are guaranteed 20 percent of total donations.

And, Pennie said, if donors ask, the telemarketers are required to tell them how much will go to the charity.

Pennie pointed to the impact that he’s had — not just cutting checks, but holding events for families who have lost officers, like taking them to watch movies, going to Medieval Times and throwing a Christmas party.

Experts in nonprofit management agreed that young organizations may have to rely on telemarketing in the beginning to raise money. But two experts who reviewed IRS filings from Pennie’s charities said they were troubled by how little the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation and the Texas Fallen Officer Foundation spent toward their mission of putting money into the hands of police families.

“This is crazy,” Erica Harris, a Villanova University professor who studies nonprofit accounting told the newspaper. “They’re spending all this money to call up people to try and get more money and then they barely use any of the money to do what they say they’re going to do.”