MONROVIA, Ind. -- A Monrovia couple accused of stealing fundraising money and spending it on themselves learned their fate Monday in Morgan County Superior Court.
As part of a plea agreement, Donald Paskett pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft, and the judge sentenced him to four months home detention and 18 months of probation.
Paskett and his wife, Michelle Paskett, were both charged in 2014 with five counts of theft and one count of corrupt business influence after police said the couple set up a fundraising operation under GoFundMe.com.
The fund was set up to offset funeral costs of Delbert Galloway, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Hendricks County, as well as for his then 17-year-old daughter, Taylor.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dismissed their case against Michelle Paskett, saying Donald was the one largely responsible for the crime.
Police found the money raised had been spent on personal bills, car washes, baby supplies, pizza and utility bills.
As part of his sentence, Donald Paskett must pay $3,754 in restitution to Taylor Galloway within six months.
If he successfully completes the terms of his probation, he can get his felony reduced to a misdemeanor.
Donald Paskett is already a convicted felon, prosecutors said, as the result of a burglary charge from 20 years ago.
Deputy prosecutor Bob Cline said the case shows you have to be careful, whether you’re organizing a fundraiser or donating to one.
“When you undertake something like this, you’re responsible,” said Cline. “When I donate, I go to that person personally and give them money. The closer you can get to the person themselves, the better off you are. "
Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney attempted to get a response from Michelle and Donald Paskett as they were leaving court.
They did not want to answer questions, and Donald Paskett elbowed Call 6 Investigates’ microphone out of the way, prompting a nearby deputy to say to Paskett “you can’t hit people.”
Bobby Whithorne, a spokesperson for GoFundMe, said less than one-tenth of one percent of GoFundMe campaigns are fraudulent.
“We take fraudulent campaigns very seriously, and we have put multiple layers of protection in place to ensure the safety and security of all donors and campaign organizers,” said Whithorne. “We deploy proprietary fraud prevention technical tools and have multiple processes to verify the identity of campaign organizers. We also have a dedicated team that works around the clock to monitor fraudulent behavior.”
The Federal Trade Commission has the following tips before giving to a charity:
- Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
- Get the exact name of the organization and do some research. Searching the name of the organization online — especially with the word “complaint(s)” or “scam”— is one way to learn about its reputation.
- Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you.
- Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials.
- Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.
Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser. If so, ask:
- The name of the charity they represent
- The percentage of your donation that will go to the charity
- How much will go to the actual cause to which you’re donating
- How much will go to the fundraiser
- Keep a record of your donations.
- Make an annual donation plan. That way, you can decide which causes to support and which reputable charities should receive your donations.
- Visit this Internal Revenue Service (IRS) webpage to find out which organizations are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions.
- Know the difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” Tax exempt means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes. Tax deductible means you can deduct your contribution on your federal income tax return.
- Never send cash donations. For security and tax purposes, it’s best to pay by check — made payable to the charity — or by credit card.
- Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once you send it, you can’t get it back.
- Do not provide your credit or check card number, bank account number or any personal information until you’ve thoroughly researched the charity.
- Be wary of charities that spring up too suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters. Even if they are legitimate, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.
- If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help your local community (for example, local police or firefighters), ask the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.
- What about texting? If you text to donate, the charge will show up on your mobile phone bill. If you've asked your mobile phone provider to block premium text messages — texts that cost extra — then you won't be able to donate this way.