Thrift Land USA to pay $700K in clothing donation bin charity scam: AG

Posted at 12:26 PM, Oct 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-29 12:26:06-04

NEW YORK – After raking in millions using phony charity donation bins, Yonkers company Thrift Land USA has agreed to pay $700,000, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Thursday.

Thrift Land USA placed more than 1,100 colorfully-painted donation bins in parking lots, gas stations and other locations throughout the New York metropolitan area.

Little did the people donating know, their hand-me-downs made Thrift Land USA owner Carl Vella more than $10 million in 2013 and 2014, according to Schneiderman, who said  Vella took the clothes and sold them to buyers in Mexico, Jordan and other countries.

“Duping members of the public into thinking that they are making a charitable donation, when in fact they are enriching a for-profit corporation, is both deceptive and illegal,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement. “When a for-profit company masquerades as a charity, my office will hold it and its owners accountable.”

The Attorney General also reached settlements with two charities -- Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rockland County and I Love Our Youth, Inc. -- that allowed Thrift Land USA to use their names in exchange for a small, monthly fee.

Vella's company painted their donation boxes like colorful houses, with "Big Brothers, Big Sisters"  or "I Love Our Youth" on the side.  Despite never registering as a charitable organization, Thrift Land USA used both charities on mailings and its website, even answering the phone as "I Love Our Youth."

According to the settlement, Vella has agreed to change the appearance of the bins so they don't appear to serve a charitable purpose -- each bin must have the company's "for-profit" status stated explicitly.  Thrift Land has paid $50,000 in fees, and paid $650,000 to two not-for-profit organizations, the New York Community Trust and the Westchester Community Foundation.