Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has announced a $14.7 million jury verdict against Rev. Bruce Hawthorne and members of his family, founders and operators of the Barberton Rescue Mission, for misappropriating funds earmarked for charity. In addition to Rev. Hawthorne and family, the defendants included two family-owned, for-profit businesses.
“Those who misuse charitable dollars will be held accountable,” said Petro. “This should give confidence to the public that we are here to protect their charitable donations.”
In the early 1980’s, the charity created the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter, a monthly publication through which subscribers could publish medical or other financial needs, which would be paid for by donations from other subscribers of the publication. The program was set up for missionaries and Christians who could not obtain health insurance.
As the program grew, the money started coming in at more than $4 million a month. Instead of covering the costs of medical bills and other financial needs, the family reportedly used a large portion of the subscribers’ donations to purchase things such as vacations, expensive cars, a fleet of motorcycles and real estate.
The defendants were found liable for breach of fiduciary duty, civil fraud, solicitation fraud, conversion and unjust enrichment. The multi-million dollar verdict represents both actual and punitive damages.
Funds recovered will be used to pay the medical bills of the thousands of newsletter subscribers who were reportedly harmed by the wrongful conduct of Rev. Hawthorne, his family and their businesses.
In 1997, members of the Barberton Rescue Mission board asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate how the family was spending the subscribers’ money. Since that time, the Charitable Law section of the office has been looking into this charity and its operators.
As a result of this review, the Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the defendants in December of 2000 seeking repayment of the misappropriated funds. The charity has been operating in accordance with its charitable purpose since a court-appointed manager stepped in to run it in 2001.
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