A man who started a small charitable foundation in honor of his teenage son who died of a drug overdose said he lied about aspects of the tragedy to get companies to donate money and sporting goods.
Tom Miller said he solicits hundreds of companies each year. Letters to golf club manufacturers have falsely claimed that his son was buried with the golf clubs of each company, that his son hoped to be a professional golfer and that the family had roots in the communities in which the companies are based.
"We were duped," said Michele Szynal, vice president of public relations for Callaway Golf Co. in Carlsbad, Calif., which donated a set of clubs worth $2,645 to the foundation this spring. "We erred on the side of compassion. We were totally taken in by this story about the death of this guy's son."
Miller, who lives in Licking County, east of Columbus, said he was so driven to put the foundation on the map that he made things up.
"I say some things that, obviously, I shouldn't say," Miller said of his letters. His son, Chris Miller, died in 2002 at the age of 17.
Sporting goods donated to the foundation are auctioned off, Miller said. Proceeds have been used to donate money to youth hockey leagues and the Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing to parents of children who are hospitalized.
Last year, the foundation raised about $10,000, said Miller, adding that he's never misused the money for personal benefit.
"They're good people," said Debbie Wright, a Fairfield County substance abuse counselor who knows the family. "I don't feel that they would use any of this to try to take advantage of anyone."
Charities that take in less than $25,000 a year aren't required to register with the state, said Monica Moloney, acting chief of the Ohio attorney general's charitable-law section. But the law does require that all organizations keep "true records of solicitation activities" that must be produced within 10 days of the attorney general's demand.
The burden rests largely with donors to check out a charity before giving, Moloney said.