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Non-profit's founder charged with theft, mail fraud

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By Jacquelyn Stoess Hack

The founder of a charity focused on feeding needy families is charged with money laundering, filing false tax returns and theft of more than $183,000 in donations. 

USA Harvest founder Hugh “Stan” Curtis faces seven criminal charges, including mail fraud, theft, money laundering and tax fraud. The non-profit moves food from those who have too much to those who have too little.

Curtis founded Kentucky Harvest in 1987, which led to the founding of USA Harvest, a national organization, just two years later.

In the charity's early days, USA Harvest focused on “food-raising,” rather than fundraising, and moves food from those who have too much to those who have much too little by working with local restaurants.

Curtis designed USA Harvest as a model of Louisville's program for cities across the country to implement.

USA Harvest now has more than 125,000 volunteers in more than 130 cities.

According to court documents filed today (Wednesday) in U.S. District Court, from September 2005 through September 2007, Curtis, 63, of Louisville, allegedly stole $183,354 in donations that he solicited on behalf of USA Harvest, a non-profit.

Of these stolen donations, Curtis deposited $164,620 into his personal account, and cashed donation checks totaling $18,734 – and thereafter used the funds for his personal benefit. 

The $164,620 includes an August 29, 2007, donation for $20,000 from Play Like the Pros, LLC and a September 5, 2007, donation for $25,000 from Richemont North America, Inc.   

In addition, Curtis did not report the $183,354 as income with the Internal Revenue Service.

According to court documents, from 2005 through 2008, Curtis did not report to the Internal Revenue Service personal income totaling $553,891.67 that he received from USA Harvest – including $183,354 in stolen donations and $370,537.67 in personal travel expenses that he charged to USA Harvest.

More particularly, Curtis allegedly used more than $370,537.67 in USA Harvest funds to pay for personal meals, personal entertainment expenses and personal travel.   

In addition, Curtis fraudulently deducted approximately $353,165 in unreimbursed USA Harvest travel expenses on his 2005 through 2007 returns.

According to documents provided to the federal court by the IRS:

• For 2005, Curtis allegedly failed to report about $160,500 in income and falsely deducted about $135,000 in unreimbursed travel expenses from USA Harvest on tax returns filed in 2006.  

• For 2006, Curtis allegedly failed to report about $217,000 income and falsely deducted about $130,000 in unreimbursed travel expenses from USA Harvest on tax returns filed in 2007.

• For 2007, Curtis allegedly failed to report about $97,000 and falsely deducted about $87,803 in unreimbursed travel expenses from USA Harvest on tax returns filed in 2008.

• For 2008, Curtis allegedly failed to report about $79,000 in income from USA Harvest on tax returns in 2009.

According to court documents, all returns were filed by Curtis and signed under the penalty of perjury.

None of the charities Curtis has been associated with – USA Harvest, Kentucky Harvest and Blessings In A Backpack – have been accused of any wrongdoing or impropriety.

In 2005, Curtis founded Blessings in a Backpack on the premise that hunger doesn't take the weekends off. The program is designed to feed elementary school children whose families qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Price Meal program on the weekends for only $80 per year. 

Every Friday, students receive their backpacks with staples that require little to no preparation and they return with their backpacks on Monday ready to learn.

According to court documents, the only non-profit believed to have suffered loss as a result of the alleged conduct is USA Harvest.

If convicted, Curtis faces a maximum of 52 years in prison, a $1,150,000 million fine and three years of supervised release. 

The case will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Calhoun and investigated by the IRS Criminal Investigations Division.