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Nationwide nonprofit scam wipes out DeChristopher's Peaceful Uprising

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 11:07 p.m. MST

Money from supporters of environmental activist Tim DeChristopher may have been lost in a charity scam.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Peaceful Uprising, a environmental group founded by imprisoned activist Tim DeChristopher, is among 200 charitable causes victimized when their fiscal sponsor suddenly ceased operations, taking as much as $1 million in donations when it folded.

The International Humanities Center based in Los Angeles County, Calif., had been the fiscal sponsor for the other groups — handling donations and other managerial duties as the parent 501C-3 organization.

Such an arrangement is popular for groups that don't want to go to the expense and time of obtaining the tax-exempt status with the IRS, and in exchange the parent group typically takes 10 percent of what is donated.

Cori Redstone, Peaceful Uprising's campaigner and art director, said the group lost as much as $88,000  — everything they knew they had — when Steve Sugarman's IHCenter went offline and simply vanished early this year.

"At first they were just going through an audit and having some issues and then by November, they stopped responding to emails and phone calls," Redstone said. "When someone robs you at gunpoint, you can call the police and they will do something. If they hold your money in trust, there's not a lot you can do."

The California Attorney General's Office has been asked to investigate, Redstone said, and because federal funds are suspected of being misappropriated, the FBI may get involved.

Some groups such as Afghan Women's Mission lost as much as $400,000. Other alleged victims included an organization raising funds on behalf of wounded veterans and a Florida group advocating election reform.

Nonprofit Quarterly blogged about the unraveling of International Humanities Center and says its director, Steve Sugarman, has all but disappeared and the group has gone insolvent.

Redstone said Peaceful Uprising has now been alligned with the nonprofit, Moab-based Living Rivers, which is an established environmental advocacy organization in the state.

"We're just devasted this happened," she said. "We know people dig deep for donations."

She said all donations at www.peacefuluprising.org are being routed through Living Rivers, a group that has teamed up with Peaceful Uprising to oppose such things as tar sands development.

Peaceful Uprising was established by environmental activist DeChristopher in the days after his initial arrest at a protest outside the downtown Salt Lake City offices of the Bureau of Land Management. DeChristopher, a University of Utah economics major, left the street-side march and took his protest inside an oil and gas lease auction, where he deliberately made bogus and high-priced bids on parcels land being offered for oil and gas development.

He was convicted in federal court on two third-degree felonies for interfering with the auction and sentenced for up to two years in prison last year, but his group continues to be active.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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