Adelphi University chemistry professor Stephen Greenberg often donates money to breast cancer charities.
His now deceased mom was once a breast cancer survivor.
But when Greenberg received a "pledge" letter last year from a Garden City, L.I., based breast cancer charity, Greenberg had a bad feeling.
"I just knew it was a fraudulent attempt to get money," he said.
Greenberg complained to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office, which has received about a dozen complaints against that very same charity -- "the Coalition for Breast Cancer Cures."
"It's a scam that preys on the good intentions of New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a statement.
The Attorney General is now suing to stop the charity. His investigators claimed it bilked New Yorkers of half a million dollars over two years.
And the money was used, not for breast cancer victims or research, but for travel, restaurants and the personal expenses of the Winston family, of Great Neck, which runs the charity, according to the Attorney General's office.
In some cases, the charity even charged the credit cards of donors multiple times without authorization, the Attorney General's office added.
"I am outraged," said Geri Barish, a three time breast cancer survivor who also serves as executive director of the legitimate, "1 in 9 Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition" of Hewlett. "I would love to smack them right in the face."
An alleged scam like this could make fundraising harder in these difficult economic times, Barish lamented.
A Nassau County judge has issued a temporary restraining order, freezing the Winston family's assets and temporarily shutting down the charity.
The Winstons and the charity are represented by attorney Brian Griffin, who released a statement saying:
"The allegation by the Attorney General’s Office that the Coalition for Breast Cancer Cures is a “fake charity” is completely inaccurate. The Coalition for Breast Cancer Cures is legally registered and incorporated in New York State as a not for profit entity. The Coalition possess a legitimate tax identification number issued by the government.
"David Winston has personally invested thousands of hours and in excess of one hundred thousand dollars into this venture. The Attorney General’s allegations regarding the Coalition’s expenses do not fairly depict the reality that all “not for profits” have a wide range of valid institutional and administrative expenses. My clients are prepared to respond to each of these claims in the context of this civil lawsuit."
People looking to donate to charities are urged to consult with the Attorney General's office to determine if the charity is legitimate.
You can check on a charity before donating by clicking here.