Sept. 27--Officials in Pennsylvania and Ohio have sued to shut down a Youngstown-area firm accused of lying to solicit charitable donations on behalf of firefighters and police, including firefighter unions in McKeesport, Butler, Sharon and New Castle.
The Pennsylvania attorney general's office on Wednesday sued Encore Music Productions in Commonwealth Court, accusing the firm of misleading donors.
The Ohio attorney general's office filed a separate suit against Boardman-based Encore, alleging the company engaged in a pattern of racketeering, theft and money-laundering in soliciting for some 30 Ohio organizations since 2006.
The Pennsylvania suit also accuses four Western Pennsylvania fire department unions -- Sharon Local 417, McKeesport Local 10, New Castle Local 160 and Butler Local 114 -- of violating Pennsylvania law by using Encore to solicit funds and not registering as charitable organizations.
Unions in Butler and Sharon said Thursday they had no knowledge of the suits or the allegations; the other two could not be reached. But the attorney general's office stressed that the locals are not accused of any fraudulent activity.
"This is not a criminal violation or anything of that sort," said Joseph Peters, communications director. "They have an obligation to know who is soliciting on their behalf."
He said the case is instructive in that organizations have to know who is asking for money in their name.
Mr. Peters said it's unclear how much money Encore raised on behalf of the local unions and how much the unions actually received over the years.
The suits accuse Encore, owned by Joseph Chiovitti, and two related Youngstown-area entities, Phil's Productions, owned by Philip Howells, and MVP Productions, owned by Martin Vernello, of a variety of deceptive practices in asking for donations.
Since 2006, according to the suits, Encore solicited for fraternal organizations by selling tickets and business advertisements for local concerts.
But the company's telemarketers "explicitly lied" to donors by telling them that all of the donations went to charity when in fact only 10 to 33 percent went to charity, according to the complaint in Ohio.
The suits also accuse the firms of using telemarketers, at least 22 of whom are convicted felons, who falsely identified themselves as firefighters.
In addition, some 200 telemarketers were not registered as professional solicitors as required by Pennsylvania and Ohio laws governing charitable organizations.
A temporary restraining order against Encore has been granted pending a permanent shutdown requested by attorneys general in both states.
Officials have also asked that any assets Encore received through fraud be liquidated and given to charity.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510.
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