Some members of the Philadelphia Firefighters Union said they were being burned on donations a national charity owed them, and NBC 10 Investigators stepped in to unmask the situation.
When it comes to firefighters, many people readily open their wallets to support the men and women who risk their lives in local neighborhoods every day and are sometimes injured on the job.
But a Philadelphia union leader said he's afraid money solicited by a group called The Association of Firefighters and Paramedics, known as AFP, isn't ever reaching them.
Charity solicitor John Long was also previously affiliated with a company that was sued by the state. The company, K&P was fined $68,000 for violating charity and donation laws.
Long told NBC 10 he now runs Empire Group Marking, Inc., a company hired by charities like AFP to get donation money over the phone and by mail.
When NBC 10 Investigators asked Long what happened to that outfit, Long said, "I think they're gone, dissolved." As it turns out, K&P was a Philadelphia telemarketing business sued by the Pennsylvania State Attorney General's Office for illegal fundraising tactics in 2003.
The company was fined $68,000 for violating the Charities Act and Consumer Protection law. Long said he was just a telemarketer for the group, but NBC 10 reported that it found letters in which Long signed documents as president of K&P.
Long denied that he was president, but when shown the letter, said he must have "forgotten to take that out." Brian McBride, president of the Philadelphia Fighters' Union, said he never heard of AFP until he recently got a phone call from a man asking him to donate money to it.
"He was reading from a script," McBride recalled. "I said, 'Are you helping local firefighters and paramedics?'
The caller answered yes, but McBride said he doesn't believe it.
"I don't know if any firefighter and paramedic has received a dime from these people," he said. NBC 10's Lu Ann Cahn said that the money raised for AFP through Long's new marketing company goes to a California address.
Charity Navigator, a Web site that rates charities on how well they distribute their funds, gave the AFP zero out of five starts because more than 95 percent of the charity's budget is spent on raising money and administrative costs.
The president of the organization, Michael Gamboa, receives $118,000 a year, NBC 10 reported.
Gamboa would not return Cahn's calls.
"That's scary whenever you see a charity that all the money is going to the administration of the charity and not to the cause itself," McBride said. "That's a problem that should be a red flag."
The union is concerned that well-meaning people have donated to the AFP, thinking they were donating to the local firefighters' charities.
"Yeah, we tell people AFP has helped Temple Burn Center and St. Christopher's Hospital for Children," Long said. But St. Christopher's Foundation for Children said they could not find any record of donations from the AFP Temple Burn Center said it received a $2,500 donation from AFP six years ago, but hasn't seen a dime since.
"I think people need to be aware of this; that there are outfits out there doing this, using the good name of firefighters and paramedics to benefit their own cause," McBride said.
NBC 10's Lu Ann Cahn urges people to research charities before giving them money, and said people shouldn't be pressured into giving money over the phone unless they've had time to check the organization out.