Feed the Children Scandal: Follow the Money


Exclusive: CBS News Investigation into a Billion-Dollar-a-Year Charity That Solicited Aid for Haiti

By Sharyl Attkisson – Feb. 18, 2010

“Feed the Children” is perhaps best known by its infomercials featuring founder, the Reverend Larry Jones. “For only $8 a month, you can help feed a child. Would you go to your phone,” Jones said in a commercial.

After the Haiti earthquake, the charity sprang into action. The Oklahoma City headquarters buzzed with activity, as donors sent in a million dollars in cash. “Right now, we need your help like never before to get urgently needed relief to Haiti,” the commercial said.

CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports most donors have no idea about the nasty family feud that’s tearing apart the billion-dollar a year charity. On one side: founder Larry Jones. On the other: his daughter Larri Sue, and the charity’s Board of Directors. It came to a head more than a year ago when each side accused the other of the worst sort of financial improprieties. In a lawsuit, Larry Jones accuses the Board of serious financial neglect, claims his daughter misused charity funds including living in a $1.2 million dollar Los Angeles home on the charity’s dime, and that she engaged in illegal schemes to cover up unpaid taxes.

Larri Sue denies any wrongdoing. The board claims it’s her father who got caught taking bribes and kickbacks, awarded himself and his wife unauthorized pay raises and went so far as to bug the executive offices. Larry Jones fired his daughter and Board members who opposed him. But when a judge resintated them, they turned around and fired him. “Larry Jones has not engaged in any financial improprieties whatsoever,” said his lawyer Mark Hammons. “Has Larry Jones done anything wrong,” Attkisson asked. “Yeah,” Hammons replied. “He made a mistake. He relied on people, and they let him down.”

But the Christian charity’s donors might feel let down by the most scandalous allegations, about pornography and sexual and racist emails. “Feed the Children” says it found incest-related porn in Reverend Larry Jones’ office. Larry Jones counters by producing racist and inappropriate emails that he claims were traded by top executives. “Plot to kidnap Obama” a watermelon under a box trap. “if she looks too young, just assume she’s 18.”

Watchdog Daniel Borochoff says donors should see lots of red flags. He’s been questioning the charity’s practices for more than a decade. “It’s ridiculous this charity can continue to raise money and have its hand out to the donating public,” Borochoff said.

We asked “Feed the Children” spokesman Tony Sellars about Borochoff’s allegations. “Only 21-23 percent of your cash donations that people give actually go to program services,” Attkisson said. “I can’t address that,” Sellars said. “I just address to the people that when they support us, what they want us to do is feed families and children, and that’s what we’re doing.” “Fifty-four percent of cash is spent on TV, radio ads and direct mail,” Attkisson said. “No, again, I cannot verify or comment to that,” Sellars replied.

Sellars says the good they do can be seen all over the world – like in Nashville, where they distributed food and personal items to the needy. Borochoff warns that looks can be deceiving. “Certainly they’re going to be doing some good, enough – not to be too cynical here – but enough good to look good in the fundraising and promotion of charity,” Borochoff said.

Which brings us to Haiti. In online e-mail messages and on its Web site, “Feed the Children”, the chairty claimed it set up a base and was running a huge camp “providing medical relief for 12,000 people.” CBS News decided to send a camera to the camp in Carrefour, west of Port-au-Prince, to see for ourselves. We found the camp was set up by local monks and nuns, not “Feed the Children.”

What about the claim that “Feed the Children” was running the camp? Apparently, that’s not true either. We did find a small, well-meaning “Feed the Children” staff – apparently unaware of the inflated fundraising claims being made by headquarters. “Feed the Children’s” Dr. Stephan Villatt said, “We have three doctors working here.” You might ask how three doctors are handling the supposed 12,000 patients. They’re not. It’s more like a hundred a day.

“Feed the Children” also claimed that the United Nations chose them “to distribute food and milk for the entire camp.” But that’s false according to the United Nations, and the account from “Feed the Children’s” own manager in the field, Rachel Zelon. Zelon told us the UN actually chose another charity called “ADRA.”

Back in Oklahoma City, we confronted Sellars — who was unaware that we’d been to the camp. “Is it your impression that you are, that “Feed the Children” is in charge of the camp,” Attkisson asked. “That is my impression at this point,” Sellars said. “Because we visited the camp, and ‘Feed the Children’ is not running it,” Attkisson said. “Does that surprise you to know?” “I would certainly have to look into that,” Sellars said. “The U.N. says it didn’t ask you to be in charge of the camp,” Attkisson continued. “I can’t comment,” Sellars replied. “I have no direct conversation with them, so I’d have to look at that.

Most shocking of all: more than two weeks after the quake “Feed the Children” despite its name wasn’t feeding anybody.* “At this point, we’re not doing food,” Zelon said.

“There was not any food or meals being handed out. Does that surprise you,” Attkisson asked the charity’s spokesman, Sellars.“That does surprise me at this time, yes,” Sellars said. Sellars left to chat privately with one of his Vice Presidents. He then returned and told us this: “We will certainly look into the difference of opinion as to exactly how much help we’re providing, and exactly who is involved with it,” he said.

Rachel Zelon, the “Feed the Children” worker we first saw at the camp in Carrefour, later contacted us to explain why the charity wasn’t feeding anyone there. She told us not one donation from “Feed the Children” ever reached her in Haiti. Last week, she resigned.

[*note: Feed the Children planned to deliver some milk in the near future and states that it had initially given out some stored food that it already had on hand]

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4 thoughts on “Feed the Children Scandal: Follow the Money”

  1. I have been seeing Feed The Children ads on TV for 36 yrs now, (I am 58), and it boggles my mind to think that the donations are not totally and actually going to what is needed to teach people how to take care of themselves, and to teach them how to grow the thing’s they need to live their lives a little bit better. But that, those who run this so called “CHARITY”, are in fact lining their own pockets by exploiting the Grief of other’s. They say they are doing something. OK! But the amount of money that they have take in, (over the past 36 years), compared to what has actually been spent on these villages and their children proves that “THEY” haven’t been being Righteous about it at all! When you work for “GOD”, and your fellow Brother/Sister! You suffer to “HIM”! “HE” will take care of you when you do for “HIM”, by doing for other’s,,,, No matter what! They could be doing so much more. That is if they spent the money on what it’s actually supposed to go for, then a whole lot of this problem would have been resolved by now! It really ticks me off too! That they have NOT used these billions and billions of dollars that they have already taken in to help these poor communities. They could have established drainage and sewage systems long ago! If they were really doing the work of GOD! They would have fixed their poisonous sewer system, and lands by now. WHY? MY GOD! Are there toxic and nasty streams of filth running throughout their very streets still,,,, after 36 years of Suppo-sed Caring and Fixing the World Then?? Dear “Feed The Children”! You are NOT living up to your end of The CRUSADE!

  2. Darlene, I am 60 years old , and I had a suspicion about any type of charity that is always asking for money. The whole fact is these charity don’t have to give an account to its people who give money in good faith. Look at Plan Parenthood who CEO has over I believe a three hundred thousand dollar salary a year just for being Her. When all of that money could be going to women health issue instead of her pocket . The pathetic thing about this is there is a lot of people who believe in trash like this and contentiously send money, and think they are actually helping someone with hunger. I bet Darlene you would be shocked at the number of charities that are doing the same thing, but never got caught. Keep on going Darlene.

  3. Clarence Lenton Sr.

    The KEY is “The LOVE of money is the root of Evil. In a word…CAPITALISM!!! Love of money begets GREED, GREED begets EVIL!!!

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