Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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Attorney General Abbott Secures Asset Freeze, Restraining Order against Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today charged the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County and four of the organization’s current and past officials with illegally soliciting charitable donations and misappropriating the funds that were donated to benefit needy Central Texas families.

In response to the State’s enforcement action, a Travis County probate court froze the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County’s assets and entered a temporary restraining order against all named defendants. The court then set a temporary injunction hearing for December 19 at 2 p.m. Following today’s hearing, Attorney General Abbott issued the following statement:

“Whether it’s a grinch or a convicted felon, the State won’t stand by while anyone steals Christmas away from deserving families in our community – so we moved swiftly to shut down this unscrupulous operation and are now working to recover all donated funds so that these dollars are available to help underserved families.”

Media Links
Attorney General's lawsuit against Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County and other parties
Temporary restraining order against Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County and other parties
Attorney General investigator affidavit

The following current and past officials with the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County were named in the State’s enforcement action:
• Shon Neel Washington, current president of the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County;
• Shon Neel Washington’s wife, Michelle Washington, current director of the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County;
• Clift Bowman aka William C. Bowman, last listed president of the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County; and
• Cynthia Colpaart, former director of the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County.

The State’s enforcement action and the resulting asset freeze only apply to the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County. No other local Christmas Bureaus are implicated in the State’s investigation.

According to the State’s enforcement action, the defendants solicited donations for the purported purpose of aiding the Austin Police Department’s Blue Santa program, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office’s Brown Santa programs and numerous other charitable organizations that provide Christmas gifts to underprivileged families. However, investigators discovered that the bank accounts of the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County have been depleted – and that the organization has no remaining funds to support its charitable mission. Further, investigators learned that Shon Washington is a convicted felon with three theft convictions. Court documents filed by the State also indicated that the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County’s office in Austin is not actually open in the midst of the holiday season; its doors are locked.

Texans seeking information about giving wisely during the holidays can obtain a copy of the Office of the Attorney General’s “Giving to Charities” brochure on the agency’s website at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer/charities.shtml.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What will happen to the money I’ve already given to the Christmas Bureau? Will it still go to help under-served children this holiday season?
A: Any remaining funds at the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County that are discovered by state investigators or recovered through the State’s enforcement action will be subject to the authority of the Travis County Probate Court. The Attorney General’s Office will petition the court to transfer any remaining funds to trustworthy charitable organizations that are dedicated to supporting underprivileged families.

Q: What happened to the money that was already donated to the Christmas Bureau? Do you know how it’s been spent?
A: Ultimately, what happened to the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County’s funds will be determined when the State’s investigation concludes. The State’s investigation of the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County is still ongoing. Although the case is still being investigated as authorities seek to determine what happened to the organization’s funds, the State immediately filed an enforcement action to prevent further dissipation of charitable assets.

Q: Why is the Attorney General’s Office getting involved in this dispute?
A: Under Texas law, the Attorney General’s Office is statutorily charged with protecting the public’s interest in charitable resources. As the state agency responsible for overseeing Texas charities, the Attorney General’s Office is authorized to issue administrative subpoenas seeking charities’ financial records and can pursue enforcement actions in court against organizations that violate state laws governing nonprofit organizations.

Q: If I still want to donate to children in need this holiday season, who should I contact?
A: The Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County was effectively a middleman between donors and organizations that are dedicated to providing gifts and other forms of assistance to underprivileged families. Texans who wish to help underprivileged families this holiday season can make a donation directly to a legitimate charity with a demonstrated record of fulfilling their charitable mission. The following organizations are worthy recipients of charitable donations:

• Blue Santa is a nonprofit operation organized by the Austin Police Department, with support from the Texas National Guard, the Austin Fire Department, the Austin Water Department and Austin Energy.
www.bluesanta.org
Operation Blue Santa, c/o APD
P.O. Box 689001
Austin, TX 78768
(512) 974-BLUE (2583)

• Brown Santa is a nonprofit community service program operated by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.
www.brownsanta.org
Travis County Brown Santa
P.O. Box 207
Austin, TX 78767-0207
24-SANTA (247-2682)

• The Season for Caring Fund is a seasonal fundraising campaign administered by the Austin Community Foundation in partnership with the Austin American-Statesman that selects 12 local families that uniquely deserve community support during the holiday season. The Fund also provides financial support to area families who are served by its local, nonprofit member organizations.
http://community.statesman.com/donate.php
Season for Caring Campaign
P.O. BOX 50066
Austin, TX 78763-0066

Note: Inclusion on the list above does not constitute an endorsement of these charities by the Office of the Attorney General.