A Sarasota nonprofit already under fire for pocketing most dollars raised also may be touting corporate support it never secured.
The Law Enforcement Officers Relief Fund listed the names of several companies as supporters in marketing materials. That included four — Southwest Airlines, the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Universal Orlando Resort — that had no record of sponsoring the organization, according to an investigation by The Center for Public Integrity and the Tampa Bay Times.
The revelation came months after another Public Integrity/Times investigation found the Fund in 2018 spent just $72,000 of $2.7 million raised that year on families of fallen or injured law enforcement officers.
The Fund is the charitable arm for the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO. Both share a penthouse office in Sarasota, and together spent about $82.3 million — 77% of their operating expenditures — on fundraising from around 2011 through March 2018, the investigation found.
The organization has hired professional telemarketing firms and sponsored golf events to raise money. Along the way, the Fund has released marketing materials “thanking” past corporate sponsors.
But when Public Integrity researchers contacted many of the firms listed, they had no record of offering any past support.
“We took some time to research and did not find any record of support for this organization on our behalf to date,” said Ro Hawthorne, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines.
At Universal Studios, the organization said it had record of providing two complimentary tickets to theme parks to the Fund. But that doesn’t fall under Universal’s definition of sponsorship.
“We donate many, many passes to a wide range of organizations over the course of a year — and so two passes in a year does not rise to the level of what we would call ‘sponsorship,’” said Tom Schroder, a Universal Studios spokesperson.
“And to my knowledge, we did not share our logo with this group or give them permission to use it.”
But logos for both organizations appear with dozens of others on literature for the Fund.
Other businesses did confirm they supported the organization in the past. John Saputo, President of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing (and a prominent political donor in Sarasota), told Public Integrity his company supported the group’s golf tournaments. But he has not decided if it will continue that support and said past participation was “out of profound respect and appreciation” for police officers.