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Newtown charity investigated for fraud: Over $70,000 in donations missing

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WTNH, Chanel 8 News reported Thursday that “U.S. Senator Chris Murphy is asking the IRS to investigate a charity set up in the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook.”

As CBS News reported Wednesday, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said his office and the office of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. are already investigating the 26.4.26 Foundation and its founder, Robbie Bruce.

On Jan. 10, The Associated Press broke the story, saying the charity -- established to benefit the families of the Newtown shooting victims -- “has been unable to account for more than $70,000 it raised through marathon running.”

Ryan Graney, of Nashville, Tenn. -- the group's cofounder -- said only $30,000 of the $103,000 taken in by the 26.4.26 Foundation was used for the organization's purpose.

Graney said Bruce -- who was in charge of the organization's finances -- cut off contact with her in September after she confronted Bruce after she discovered “suspicious charges” had been made “to the foundation's PayPal account.”

"I saw there was $1,200 billed for paddle boards," Graney said. "I went on (Bruce's) Instagram page, and he had posted a picture of a paddle board in the back of his truck."

Bruce also posted a photo of himself on Instagram, demonstrating his “first SUP Stand on" his "new board!”

Bruce has since scrubbed his Instagram account as well as his "About Me" page.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that "Graney said she filed complaints with office of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. and the FBI after" Bruce "could not account for the missing money."

An Oct. 9, 2012 message on the 26.4.26 Facebook page – posted, presumably, by Graney -- reads: “Update coming soon.”

After nearly three months of 26.4.26 Facebook silence, the “update” was posted Dec. 23, 2013.

“Before you do your run this weekend,” the post began, “you should know what happened to 264626 and why it is no longer around.”

Due to the founder’s transgressions and misconduct we were forced to end all ability for 26.4.26 to collect money. Especially after it was revealed that foundation money was spent on personal items.

In total 26.4.26 raised $103,000, of which only $30,000 was handed out. The money that was raised for Boston is included in the $103,000 total but we are not aware if that money was delivered or not.

When asked about the state of the bank account a straight answer was never given and to this day, we have not seen the bank account.

"We are saddened to see this great movement come to such a crumbling and embarrassing end," the post concludes remorsefully. "We fought so hard to do good and in the end 26.4.26 was taken advantage of and for that we are sorry."

"Yes, that is me in the news all over the country," reads a Jan. 11 Twitter post by Graney as news stories began to surface nationwide. "No I don't have anything else to say."

"Please don't send me any more links" she added in another post. "Yes, I know it is everywhere. I don't want to see it though. I appreciate the effort though."

While it is admirable that Graney came forward, Examiner has discovered an apparent discrepancy regarding the $30,000 donation to the NYA.

According to The Associated Press report, “the group held its first marathon in Nashville a week after the shooting, with more than 1,000 participants.”

While WKRN reported Jan. 5, 2013 that Bruce would “be delivering the $30,000 check to the Newtown community on January 19,” and The Newtown Bee reported Jan. 25, 2013 that Bruce delivered a check for $30,000 to the Newtown Youth Academy – and the 26.4.26 Facebook page touted the donation being made that day with a photo of Bruce presenting the typical photo-op-oversized check -- a Dec. 27, 2012 post on Strides for Sandy Hook 5K stated that “nearly $40,000” was raised by more than "1,000 runners" in the initial charity event.

According to an April 15 post on 26.4.26, the “usual” request was for runners to donate “$1 per mile” and “100% of the proceeds will go DIRECTLY to the families.”

In addition to the missing money raised by runners, there is no accounting of money raised through the sale of t-shirts, stickers, buttons and other assorted promotional items pictured on the website.

More specifically, an April 26 post on the 26.4.26 website announced that tank t-shirts would be “available for purchase at the April 27 Country Music Marathon & 1/2 Marathon Expo at “booth #207 under the 15 pole.”

If you preordered them you have to pick them up at Barnes and Noble on West End.

However -- in addition to stealing an estimated $73,000 in donation money -- Bruce apparently scammed people out of money they paid for t-shirts as well.

“OK...” reads a Jan. 18, 2013 post by Bruce on the 26.4.26 Facebook page. “FINALLY! A Shirt UPDATE!”

First, we sincerely apologize for the substantial delay on the fulfillment of the shirt orders. With all the generosity demonstrated to support this event... the last thing we wanted was to let any of you down!

“That said,” Bruce offered two excuses why those who had ordered and paid for t-shirts had not received them and promised that they would “be ready for pickup/delivery first of next week!”

However – according to posts made in response to the Dec. 23 announcement about Bruce’s “transgressions and misconduct,” several people never received their t-shirts.

ABC affiliate WATE News 2 out of Nashville reported that another suspicious “expenditure from the PayPal account noted in [Graney’s] complaint was for $3,245.50 to X3 Endurance, Bruce's former company.”

News 2 talked to X3 Endurance officials who said Bruce was never an employee of the company, and they provided an invoice that showed the $3,245.50 payment was for a t-shirt order.

However, The Associated Press noted in its report that “an online biography lists Bruce, an endurance athlete, as co-founder of Nashville-based X3 Endurance, a fitness training company, which had a link to the foundation on its website."

But Eddie Ferrell, another co-founder of that company, said it ended its relationship with Bruce almost a year ago and his whereabouts are unknown.

Review of the X3 Endurance website now shows that all mention of Bruce and the 26.4.26 Foundation have been removed.

Also in question is what happened to the money generously donated to 26.4.26 from a local business after the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, through which 26.4.26 pledged to raise money for the families of the victims in the Boston marathon bombing.

While April posts on the 26.4.26 website state that the Silver Dollar Saloon would “donate a portion of all sales made” at a “Marathon After Party from 6-2am” following the April 27 Country Music Marathon & 1/2 Marathon Expo “to the 26.4.26 foundation” and that the donation would “directly benefit the families in Boston," there is no disclosure of how much money the foundation received from the Silver Dollar Saloon or whether or not those funds were counted as part of the missing $73,000.

"It is unthinkable that anyone would attempt to profit from the Sandy Hook tragedy,” the CBS News report quoted from a statement issued by Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper “Charities are supposed to help the community, not prey on it. Tennessee law provides serious civil as well as criminal penalties when these standards are not met."

According to the website for Tennessee Secretary of State Trey Harget, “civil penalties up to $5,000 may be imposed for each and any violation of Tennessee’s Charitable Solicitations Act.

Further, anyone who willfully and knowingly violates any provision of the Charitable Solicitations Act, or willfully and knowingly gives false or incorrect information in filing statements or reports to the division commits a Class B misdemeanor. A second or subsequent offense is a Class E felony.

According to Colorado State Law, “Violations” of the Colorado Charitable Solicitations Act “can be misdemeanors or felonies and the Colorado Attorney General has jurisdiction to enforce the Act criminally and civilly."

Bruce identifies himself on his Twitter account as the “Executive Performance Director at RX Endurance.”

“Done with @CEOIronman events until I hear about this @CAFoundation issue,” reads an ironic Oct. 19 criticism posted by Bruce through his Twitter account. "How much are you charging them for charity slots? Speak up.”

“In most cases,” Mike Leone explained in a Feb. 18, 2013 post to the Ironman website, “gaining entry through a charity partner requires a fundraising commitment. The athlete must fundraise for the nonprofit organization offering the slot and fundraising requirements vary by the event and charity.”

Leone further noted that “more specific information and a list of nonprofits that hold slots for the event can be found on the event sites of all the” races listed at the bottom of the post.

Specifics on how to purchase an entry with a charity partner can be found by selecting the specific charity logo on the charity page of each event website. You will be directed to the nonprofit organizations page with registration details.

“Raise just $1,500 to earn an entry or $1,000 to simply join the team,” reads the post by Challenged Athletes Foundation regarding the upcoming March 29 Ironman race in California.

Join CAF’s Team Operation Rebound and help our injured troops to live life — not just be alive. Race through Camp Pendleton — where our Marines work and train — side-by-side with injured American heroes and give back to those who have served so honorably. Your fundraising allows injured troops to heal through sports and gets them from the frontline to the finish line. You compete. Our injured troops win.

“For once,” reads Bruce’s Nov. 19, 2013 follow-up slam – another of several insults slung through Twitter to @IronmanTri, “post something that has to do with the SPORT of triathlon and not about you making money and globalizing mediocrity.”

Meanwhile, posts being made to Bruce's RX Endurance Facebook page in response to his apparently intentional endeavor to use his charity organization to scam thousands from charitable individuals are far more incendiary.

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