Clothing Donations to Planet Aid Might Be Contributing to a Scam

Planet Aid reportedly has ties to a secretive Danish organization founded by a man currently wanted for tax evasion.

  • Published 30 May 2016
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If you’ve ever donated your clothing to Planet Aid, your charitable act may have had some uncharitable consequences. According to an NBC Washington and Reveal investigation, the nonprofit, which operates donation boxes in several states around the country, might have diverted contributions to a secretive Danish group run by a fugitive wanted for tax evasion.

IRS records obtained by NBC Washington show Planet Aid reported making up to $42 million annually to help fund charitable activities in Africa. But in a 2001 FBI memo, Danish authorities suggested Planet Aid’s funds, from government grants in addition to donated contributions, were often diverted to “personal use” by members of a controversial Danish group known as Tvind, or the Teachers Group, NBC Washington and Reveal reported. The memo also stated that “little to no money goes to the charities.”

Planet Aid’s president Ester Neltrup denied any diversion of funds.

“All money Planet Aid receives from donations and from U.S. Government grants goes directly to support our development work around the globe,” Netltrup wrote. “And as recipients of U.S. Government grants Planet Aid is subject to regular oversight by its donor organizations. We follow strict compliance measures to ensure that our finances meet or exceed those high standards.”

Several organizations have set up clothing bins with ulterior motives and sell the items collected for profit. But government records and former workers suggest the Teachers Group, which runs multiple other charities, also operated in a “cult-like” system, siphoning money from employees as well as from well-intentioned donations.

One former worker for Planet Aid, Meredith Crocker, told NBC Washington that she was required to pledge portions of her salary back to the company in exchange for training, though she eventually regained the funds. Danish court records obtained by NBC Washington and Reveal also showed that the leader of the Teachers Group “required his members to live communally, give over control of their money, their time and decisions like ‘the right to start a family,’” according to the news station.

That leader, Mogens Amdi Petersen, is allegedly hiding in Mexico from fraud and tax evasion charges in Denmark, NBC Washington reported. He has been avoiding Interpol since he was sentenced in absentia in 2013, according to Reveal.

Neltrup, Planet Aid’s president, denied any connection between the nonprofit and Petersen, saying “Petersen has nothing to do with Planet Aid now, nor has he at any time in the past.”

The U.S. government has signed multiple agreements with Planet Aid, according to Reveal. The government has designated up to tens of millions of dollars to the organization, starting with an $8.5 million grant in 2004 for charity work in Mozambique to a $31.6 million program as recently as last year.

In a statement to Reveal, U.S. officials said only that the nonprofit has passed through the government’s review process successfully: “None of the formal compliance reviews, ad-hoc reviews, site evaluations or audits [the Foreign Agricultural Service] has conducted of Planet Aid projects have yielded any significant findings or concerns.”

Neltrup, Planet Aid’s president, denied any connection between the nonprofit and Petersen, saying “Petersen has nothing to do with Planet Aid now, nor has he at any time in the past.”