A local group claims its rock concerts raise money for a police nonprofit benefiting the families of fallen officers; helping to cover their funerals, establishing scholarships for their kids and even one day creating a memorial for those killed outside the line of duty.
ABC2 Investigators wanted proof. And we didn't get it .
There's a clear message behind concerts staged last weekend at a White Marsh club, "heavy metal with a heart." But ABC2 Investigators went behind the music to learn about the cause it benefits because something didn't sound quite right.
Fallen Blue is a Maryland-based organization run by John Guarnieri. It claims to provide emotional and financial support for the families of police officers killed outside the line of duty. For years, on Facebook and in postings on its own website, Fallen Blue claimed to be a police nonprofit.
We couldn't find official filings for the organization so we attempted to speak with Guarnieri at Rock Harvest, the organization's flagship benefit concert.
But he wouldn't answer.
ABC2 Investigators confirmed Fallen Blue is not registered as a nonprofit with the Internal Revenue Service or with Maryland's Secretary of State, which oversees nonprofits.
That agency's website says charitable organizations are required to register before they start soliciting, but we found Fallen Blue has been holding concerts to raise money for years without any registration. The Secretary of State's office told ABC2 they don't comment about a pending investigation. The IRS says it doesn't comment about specific organizations.
Stevie Rachelle was willing to talk about the group. He's the singer of the 80s hair band Tuff. His says his group was approached about playing Rock Harvest. A deal was signed but eventually fell through.
"It didn't all add up. And it's still not adding up," Rachelle told us.
Rock Harvest was held in 2012 and again in early November. Both times, Rachelle says, it was billed as an event benefiting the police nonprofit.
"If I remember correctly it was really stressing the fact that these were officers that were killed and basically families that were left without a father, without a husband. And this charity was going to be raising money to help those families," Rachelle said.
When we asked Guarnieri to talk to one of those families the organization had helped, he ignored the question.
But his organization took our money for tickets for that benefit concert. We bought a pair for $25 each and went the first night of the three-night event. We found Fallen Blue t-shirts for sale and items up for charity auction. Items are also listed as part of a benefit auction on Fallen Blue's Facebook page and website. But no one, not even Guarnieri, could tell us what happens to the money raised from the tickets or the items up for sale.
"There has to be a paper trail. There has to be some accountability," said Robert Douglas, founder of the National Police Suicide Foundation.
Douglas's organization is a registered nonprofit that spawned out of his experiences with the stresses of police work on the streets of Baltimore. Now a retired officer, Douglas is contracted with federal, state and local agencies to do exactly what Fallen Blue claims - to raise awareness about officers who take their own lives.
Douglas applauds the cause Fallen Blue claims to chase, but he says the organization needs to be transparent. He feels they should be providing documentation on their website that makes it clear who they are, what they do, how much money they raise and where it goes.
"You would want to do that. That's not something you would shy away from. You want to do that," Douglas said.
We repeatedly asked Fallen Blue to show us they've filed with the state and feds to become a nonprofit. That's an effort they claimed to be working on for years on their website. But John Guarnieri dodged our questions.
After we tried to talk to him he changed his group's Facebook page, removing the term "nonprofit" from Fallen Blue's profile. But on the Rock Harvest Facebook page, Fallen Blue is still listed as a police nonprofit.
In an email Guarnieri told us, "Everything we do, to include time & money, is 100% given from myself, as we don't seek any profit."
He tells ABC2 the expenses accrued by his organization are often more than they bring in and that while they thought about becoming a "full-fledged nonprofit," because of high costs they've instead opted to donate what they can to another group, Safe Call Now.
That organization is a registered 501-C3 listed with the IRS. When contacted by phone, Safe Call Now refused to tell ABC2 if Fallen Blue has contributed to its organization and in what amount. Their Executive Director did not respond to our request for additional information through email.
Angie Barnett with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland says if you want to help a good cause, it's best to give to the charity itself .
should give directly to those organizations that have boots on the ground so that money doesn't have to go through a middleman, another middleman and another middleman," Barnett said.