by Julie Brooks
- Gina Clark, Founder of Touched by Angels, states it's "business as usual" and thanks the community and businesses for continuing to donate.
- Says her life has been "an ordeal" for the last 6 months but she's "a survivor" and will get through it.
- Would not provide names of families currently being helped by Touched by Angels for fear that they "would get taken advantage of by con men"
-Touched by Angels Former VP Becky Souza's MySpace pictures
Gina Clark, (pictured right) founder and head of Touched by Angels, a Marstons Mills-based charity that has been alleged by local families to have raised money on their behalf and then not given it to them, called me at my office yesterday to tell her side of the story. In March, a video was released and widely publicized in which four local families make these allegations.
Gina's call to me was touched off by a weird message that someone posted on Craigslist alleging that one of Gina's daughters was pregnant by a guy who had just been sentenced to life in prison.
I called her office and left a message asking if she would care to comment on it. She had called the local police asking about the Craigslist posting and told the police I had left a message and the police suggested she call me and tell me her side of the story, so she did.
She declined to give me the officer's name. She said that the daughter mentioned had never been pregnant and did not know the guy in prison. Gina is still living in the same house, and Touched by Angels still has its office near her house, and continues to raise funds.
Harassment and Bullying
Gina stated that she has been "living through hell and suffered so much" in the last few months in the form of harassment and bullying. She would not name the perpetrators and said she was working with the Barnstable Police on this but no charges have been filed.
Here are Gina's answers to the questions I asked.
JB: Are you or Touched by Angels being currently investigated by local police or other authorities?
GC: No, absolutely not.
Editor's note: According a Fox Boston story, the State Attorney General's office is heading up an investigation.
JB: I see that there a lot of gift cards for local businesses for sale on your website for 50% off. Is this money going to help local families in need? Do you have any upcoming fundraising events planned?
GC: We have no fundraisers planned. We are currently helping many local families in need and all our fundraising is now internal marketing. We do telemarketing and sales of gift cards and merchandise on our website. We also do table sales at craft fairs of our jewelry and Touched by Angels apparel. The money from the table sales goes toward our operating expenses and the and the other money we raise goes to the families. I don't give the families the money directly, I pay bills for them and things like that.
JB: Can you give me the names of some of the families you're currently helping so that I can talk to them?
GC: I can't make these names public because I'm afraid con men will take advantage of them.
JB: Have you continued to receive donations of gift cards, merchandise, or money from local businesses since the allegations were publicized?
GC: Yes, I have and I want to say a big thank you to all these businesses and supporters.
JB: Who are some of your biggest business supporters? I know non-profits like to publicly thank their supporters any chance they get.
GC: Well, it's just a lot of mom and pops and I don't want to single any of them out to thank because the other ones might be hurt.
JB: What about donations from the general public?
GC: They dropped off for about a week after the bad publicity but people are giving as much now as they used to.
JB: Are the people running the tables at crafts fairs paid employees or volunteers?
GC: They're volunteers. I used to pay them 20% of the money they raised but now they're volunteers.
JB: Four months ago, according to Guidestar.org, Touched by Angels had not filed its 990 forms for 2008 and 2009 with the IRS. (All non-profits are required to file annual 990 forms with the IRS which states their income and expenses.) Has Touched by Angels filed these forms since then?
GC: No, but we've filed for extensions.
JB: Why haven't you filed your 990's?
GC: The accountant has just been so backed up. He does the tax form filings for his clients in alphabetical order and Touched by Angels begins with a T.
Editor's note: According to Touched by Angel's filings with the state, a person named Becky Souza was the former Vice-president of Touched by Angels. On her MySpace page, Ms. Souza lists her employer as Touched by Angels and has posted the photo of herself on the right.
The current VP of Operations is Chris Clark, Gina's husband.
JB: Why do think the families on the video are accusing you of fraud?
GC: Julie, this all started with an ex-employee called Steven Ledwell, who was trying to hide income from the IRS and wanted me to tell the IRS he had never worked for me. I refused to do this and fired him. He then turned those families against me.
JB: Gina, what a lot of people are having trouble believing is that one person could convince four separate families to go on camera and publicly allege that they had been defrauded by you. Do you think he paid them to say this?
GC: No, but Julie, he's a con man who can convince people of anything. All of these families were very happy with the fundraisers I did for them. And for them to turn on me just hurts so much. I have hundreds of letters of support from people I've helped.
JB: Have you received any letters of support since these accusations were made public?
JB: Can you fax or email me these letters so that I can publicize them? They need to have the people's names on them, though. I won't publicize anonymous letters.
GC: No, I can't do that. I want to keep their names confidential.
JB: The family of Jeffrey Brown, the boy who died of leukemia, said that you only gave them $200 after their fundraiser. Are they lying?
GC: My heart broke for that family, there was hardly anybody at their fundraiser.
JB: They say on the video that there were lots of people there, that you combined their fundraiser with another family's, that there was an auction and raffles and that you were selling merchandise at tables.
GC: It just hurts me so much that they would make this accusation. (crying)
JB: You made a video defending yourself through the Community Media Center. Why don't you make another video with families you've helped who are supportive of you, to defend the reputation of Touched by Angels?
GC: We are going to make another video at the end of the summer. I have four families in mind.
JB: The end of the summer is three weeks away, have you notified the families?
GC: Not yet.
JB: Can you tell me what their names are?
JB: It's been four months since the accusations against you were made public. You say you have many families you've helped who support you. How come you haven't made video testimonials from families you've helped and uploaded them to YouTube? That way you wouldn't have to go through the Community Media Center.
GC: I've just had so much going on, I haven't had time.
JB: You say in your video that you've never received a check from Touched by Angels. In most non-profits, the executive director gets a salary. Why haven't you paid yourself a salary for all the work you've done?
GC: Julie, I didn't need to. I have an angel in my life, a dear relative who has been very generous in helping me. I don't want to say it was an inheritance, but it's something like that.
JB: Many people were puzzled by the fact that you have a $5000+ monthly mortgage payment for a $710,000 home, that you have two Harleys, an Escalade, and a Mercedes, and that you pay for all this plus your other living expenses on your husband's firemen's $50K salary alone. Is this inheritance how you pay for it all?
GC: That's nobody's business.
JB: Why do you bother with running Touched by Angels when you could enjoy helping people just as easily by volunteering your own time and money as a private citizen?
GC: Julie, my husband often asks me the same thing and after all I've been through, I'm considering it.
JB: Why are you continuing your work helping families if it's caused you so much suffering?
GC: It's totally because the feeling that I get when I help people is an addiction to me, the way an alcoholic feels when they drink. (crying)
JB: What about Dawn Hand? (Gina's ex-employee who accuses her of fraud) Have you been in contact with her?
GC: I'm taking her to small claims court. Out of the goodness of my heart, I loaned her money to prevent her from going into foreclosure. She only has to pay me back $20 per month and she isn't even paying that.
JB: How much did you loan her?
GC. Less then $1000.
JB: Hmm, $1000 doesn't sound like enough to prevent foreclosure. Also, with your financial means, why are you confronting her in court over a kind of small amount?
GC: I'm not going to let her get away with this.
JB: What is your biggest worry right now? Do you worry you're going to be investigated for fraud? It seems like you don't have any financial worries.
GC: I'm not worried at all about an investigation. I have so many friends and supporters. I've been through hell and back over the last 6 months but I will survive, just like the tattoo on my foot says.
JB: Gina, you said you're not worried that you are going to be investigated, donations are rolling in to Touched by Angels at the level they always have, and you're still able to help families which is your passion, so it sounds to me like your ordeal is over, and that you HAVE survived, not that you WILL survive.
GC: That's a good way to put it.
I thanked her for her time in answering my questions and we ended the conversation cordially. Well, it might be too late to change her tattoo, but it sounds as if Gina has landed on her feet. Or at least her tattooed foot.
Touched by Angels
P.O. Box 1522
Marstons Mills, MA, 02648
Phone: 508-420-7197 Fax: 508-420-7917
Previous CapeCodToday stories:
Fox Boston Video and Article Part 2 in which Fox says the Mass. AG is heading up an investigation
Barnstable Police Department (508) 775-0387