State officials have filed a lawsuit against the operators of a New Jersey-based Sandy charity that claims they used donation funds for personal expenses and failed to properly register as a charity.
The suit filed Thursday by the Division of Consumer Affairs says John Sandberg and Christina Terraccino of Sparta transferred $13,000 in donations to personal bank accounts.
Officials allege the couple paid as much as $4,500 to retail stores, restaurants, supermarkets and a home heating oil delivery service. It also said $8,000 was paid to a credit card company for personal expenses.
It alleges that by January, the charity had raised $631,000 but had issued only $1,650 in gift cards to aid Sandy victims.
Authorities say the couple also failed to properly register the Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation as a charitable organization. They said the organization's website, www.sandyrelief.org, claims that it is a tax-exempt organization despite failing to register it properly.
Under the donations portion of the website, the organization bills itself as the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, the name of a separate charitable organization chaired by First Lady Mary Pat Christie.
The consumer affairs department said it began raising red flags about the organization in late December.
Sandberg told The Asbury Park Press the group is experiencing growing pains.
He acknowledged they hadn't applied for tax-exempt charity status as required, but that they are in the process of preparing the necessary paperwork to register. Sandberg told the newspaper the foundation is trying to retool the way it distributes aid.
The Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation website states all of its donations go to food, clothing, supplies and cleanup efforts to help victims of the storm.