ABERDEEN, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - A car shop owner under state investigation, accused of taking money from veterans to repair their classic cars, but not doing the work, admits he held fundraisers for military charity he created that was never registered and did not help anyone.
"The program didn't work and I feel extremely bad about that," said George Fredericks, the owner of the now closed Icon Customs, who started the charity Wheels From Valor.
Army Special Forces Officer Alan Lancaster was told he would be a Wheels From Valor recipient. He says he paid Fredericks $17,000 to have his 1966 Mustang Coupe repaired. Photos show the car was stripped but nothing else. After complaining, he says Fredericks promised to finish the job and add on tens of thousands of dollars of additional work for free - "his words was, 'take your car to the next level,'" Lancaster said - paid for with money raised from his charity.
"I'll never forget when he told me there's people out there willing to give me what I deserve as a thank you for my service," said Lancaster. "I never thought I deserved anything. I was extremely grateful that a program like this was in existence."
That restoration job never happened. The charity's goalm according to its archived website, was to provide veterans technical skills so they could start their own restoration business.
Fox 46 checked and found the charity never registered as a non profit and used misleading advertised to raise money. In a 2015 Facebook post shows a picture of a blue 1966 Chevelle that will be raffled off. Fox 46 found that same picture taken by someone else, posted online, the year before.
Former employee Rocky Hall says it was a car they never owned and never gave away.
"They found a picture off the internet, printed it up, stuck it on a flyer and said they were raffling off this car," said Hall. "They sold raffle tickets but I never saw the car delivered or anything like that."
Fredericks says he was in the process of applying for his non profit status when he closed the charity. He says he barely made enough money to cover overhead let alone train veterans or give away the car he advertised.
"We collected $1500," said Fredericks,when asked why he didn't give away the car, despite taking donations.
So where did the money go?
"It went into the Wheels From Valor foundation," said Fredericks, admitting it closed down.
Aberdeen police and two state agencies are investigating Fredericks for fraud. One agency, the Department Motor Vehciles License and Theft Bureau, is also investigating his Wheels From Valor program.
"My gut feeling was telling me it was too good to be true," said Lancaster. "And I should have went with my gut."
Tips For Dealing With Charities
The respected watchdog group Charity Navigator recommends the following tips for dealing with charities:
- Research before giving. Make sure the charity you are considering supporting is a bona fide, tax exempt 501(c)(3) public charity. If you aren't sure ask for the organization's EIN (Employer Identification Number)
- Examine the charity's finances. Financially healthy organizations have greater flexibility and freedom to pursue their charitable mission.
- Ensure the charity is accountable and transparent. Charities that are an open book and follow good governance practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities.
- Follow up in six months to a year to find out how they're using your money. Ask for a progress report to get a sense of how responsive they are to you and if they can clearly communicate their progress.
Charity Navigator recommends donors check their website to see if the charity they are considering donating to is registered and how many stars they have and if the charity has a donor advisory.