Your Giving Hands and H.O.P.E. for Single Parents and Families were organizations that shared a common stated mission — helping local people struggling financially. They also shared a common founder — suspended Lower Southampton deputy constable Bernard Rafferty, one of three Lower Southampton officials facing federal money laundering charges.
The organizations merged in 2012. Neither group nor the merged organization filed state or federal financial disclosure forms showing how much money was collected and distributed annually. Neither group nor the merged organization has been designated as a federally recognized nonprofit, which allows donors to make tax-deductible donations and frees organizations from paying state and federal taxes on any money collected or on anything they buy.
This news organization started looking at the two groups following the December 2016 arrest of Rafferty, Robert Hoopes, who was then Lower Southampton's public safety director, and then-Lower Southampton District Judge John Waltman on federal charges of conspiracy and money laundering. A U.S. grand jury indicted the men for allegedly conspiring between 2015 and 2016 to launder $400,000 that they were told were the proceeds of health care fraud, drug trafficking and bank fraud, but were really part of an undercover investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Hoopes was terminated and Waltman was suspended after the arrests. The trial for the three is scheduled for October in U.S. District Court, Philadelphia.
The H.O.P.E. website and Facebook page list Hoopes' former Doylestown Township law office as the place where donations could be mailed or dropped off. Hoopes' defense attorney in the fraud case, Megan Scheib, declined to comment on his relationship to the organization.
The lack of public financial records and charity registration by Hands and H.O.P.E. and the connections to Rafferty and Hoopes caught the attention of Bucks County Consumer Protection Director Michael Bannon, who confirmed his office asked the state Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations to investigate. A state spokeswoman said the bureau doesn't confirm investigations.
“The lack of information as a charitable organization is concerning me,” Bannon said. “The bottom line is, how much money did they raise?”
Available information — including H.O.P.E.’s website, Lower Southampton meeting minutes, and interviews with donors and other familiar with the organizations — confirmed that Hands received at least one $500 donation and H.O.P.E. received at least $1,500 in donations.
However, there's no definitive answer to Bannon's question, since the groups didn't file financial disclosure documents.
The co-founder of H.O.P.E. declined to answer questions and Rafferty’s defense attorney, Brian Puricelli, didn't return emails or calls seeking comment.
Charities and nonprofits don’t need federal tax-exempt status to operate, according to Jennifer Chandler, of the National Council of Nonprofits in Washington, D.C. But in addition to paying taxes and not accepting tax-deductible donations, they would be required to file annual tax returns. Such tax returns aren't public documents so there's no indication if they were filed.
State law doesn't require nonprofits and charities with annual incomes under $25,000 to register to solicit donations or to submit annual financial disclosure documents, according to Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State. “If they are exempt from registering, we don’t know how much they’ve raised. We count on organizations following the law and a great many of them do,” she said.
Your Giving Hands was created as a nonprofit corporation with the Pennsylvania Department of State on Dec. 31, 2009, and is still listed as active, according to the state agency's website. Its address is listed as a Lower Southampton gas station, according to copies of the filing documents.
Hands had a website that was active in September 2011, according to the internet archive the Way Back Machine. The site is no longer active and it's unknown when it was removed.
The website described Hands as a nonprofit that provided a "helping hand to people in need within our community," and listed Rafferty as its contact.
H.O.P.E. was founded in March 2012 and Rafferty was named executive vice president in July of that year, according to the H.O.P.E. website, which was active as an individual organization as of May 24, along with its Facebook page.
The H.O.P.E. and Hands groups announced their merger in December 2012, according to a story this news organization published.
|Bernard Rafferty (Left) and Kelly Harold|
In a Feb. 13 Facebook message to this reporter, she said Rafferty was part of H.O.P.E. because he had “connections. He would introduce me and I would network. He believed in my dream. That was all. He was only co-founder because one day I met him and was sharing my idea and he introduced me to many people and helped me get connections. Then he went to monthly meetings. That was it.”