Morris County 911 Memorial
The Morris County, N.J., 9/11 Memorial. Image: Zager Family/Flickr/CC BY

Hundreds of charities formed in response to the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. With promises of memorializing victims or aiding their families and those of first-responders, concerned Americans poured $1.5 billion into these nonprofits. While most of the fundraisers lived up to their promises, a recent Associated Press investigation has uncovered shady dealings from many would-be philanthropists.

AP probe of charities

The AP recently examined 325 charities established to memorialize 9/11 victims and first responders or to aid their families. These charities raised about $1.5 billion, the largest share of which went immediately to victims’ families. Most of those nonprofits closed after the money had been collected and distributed. Some are still in operation but have moved on to raising money for victims of Hurricane Katrina and other causes.

But a handful of other less magnanimous “charities” also emerged during the investigation.

Flag of Honor Fund

A Connecticut-based charity, the Flag of Honor Fund, created and promoted a flag with the names of every person who died in the tragedy emblazoned upon it. The organization raised nearly $140,000. The flag was produced and is sold at Wal-Mart and other retail outlets. Some of the money it raises does go to victims’ families, but the bulk of it goes to retailers, the manufacturer who makes the flag and a for-profit business operated by the man who created the fund.

Garden of Forgiveness

Lyndon Harris, an Episcopal priest, started a nonprofit to build something called the Garden of Forgiveness at ground zero. To date the organization has raised $200,000. Harris paid more than $130,000 of that to himself — $3,562 of which was attributed to dining expenses alone. The construction of the garden has yet to commence. Harris, however, still believes his work was successful. “I saw our mission as teaching about forgiveness,” he said.

The American Quilt Memorial

The American Quilt Memorial fund was founded in 2003 by Kevin Held of Peoria, Ariz. The quilt was to be made of thousands of white bed sheets sewn together to stretch a mile and a half long and be as wide as an eight-lane highway. To date, all that exists of the quilt are a few hundred sheets in a rented storage space.

Held raised $713,000, all of which has been spent. More than $270,000 went to Held and his family. He gave himself $175,000. In an interview last month, Held claimed the quilt would be completed soon. But after further inquiries by the AP, he abruptly shut the nonprofit down, saying the economic downturn made it an impossibility to complete.

Urban Life Ministries

The Urban Life Ministries, based in Manhattan, has raised more than $4 million to help families of victims and first responders. An investigation of the ministry’s tax returns, however, revealed that only about $670,000 of that was ever reported. The organization lost its non-exempt status this year for failure to report income. More than 46 other 9/11 charities met a similar fate in 2011.

Twenty-six other groups have been granted tax-exempt status for proposed 9/11 charitable endeavors and have not filed a single tax return.


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