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50 Legs charity attracts state scrutiny

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Published:   |   Updated: May 14, 2013 at 09:14 AM
TAMPA -

A Pinellas County charity that works to provide prosthetics to people who have lost limbs, including the 2-year-old girl who recently lost her feet in a lawnmower accident, is drawing the attention of state regulators who oversee nonprofit organizations.

While 50 Legs in 50 Days is a registered nonprofit and is listed with the IRS as a charity, it is not registered with the state as a solicitor of contributions, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The department sent a letter on April 30 to request information from the charity, which has until Wednesday to respond.

Among the glitches: 50 Legs Director Steve Chamberland has an arrest record, which prohibits him from fundraising for the charity he directs.

The charity came under the scrutiny of the state after Chamberland appeared in newspaper articles and television news segments after the Palm Harbor toddler lost her feet last month in a lawnmower accident.

He appeared with the family at every turn, vowing to get the little girl the best prosthetics at no cost to the family. Chamberland himself lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident years ago.

The Nugents are not commenting on the matter, said Rev. Dennis Reid, pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church, who is acting as spokesman for the family.

“We not making any comments on that story until 50 Legs give a statement,” he said. “So, my official comment is ‘no comment.’ ”

Chamberland could not be reached for comment Monday.

State consumer services spokeswoman Erin Gillespie said that after the 50 Legs organization got the letter, someone from the nonprofit called and spoke to the department about the registration process.

“We have not had any complaints about the organization,” Gillespie said.

Hillsborough County court records show Chamberland pleaded guilty to grand theft, a third-degree felony, in 2009 and was sentenced to 18 months probation. The court withheld adjudication, which means Chamberland has never been officially convicted of a crime.

But pleading guilty was enough, according to the state statute, which says a person who solicits funds for a charity cannot have pleaded guilty or no contest to a felony over the past 10 years.

“Our staff will work with the charity to bring them into compliance,” Gillespie said. Such occurrences are not unusual with nonprofits, she said.

“We get calls from charities all the time asking about regulations,” she said. “That’s common.”

There is no law that says a person charged with a felony – even convicted of a felony – cannot run a charity or be the CEO, she said. But that person cannot directly solicit financial contributions.

The letter to 50 Legs cited the law, passed in 1992, which said those soliciting contributions must register with the state, and that a violation could result in hefty fines.

Gillespie said 50 Legs has been cooperative and is working toward registering itself as a solicitor for contributions.


kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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