A Brooklyn-based non-profit has been using the story and photo of a disabled little girl to solicit donations — but her parents did not see a single dime, the couple claimed in a $5 million lawsuit.
The politically-powerful Aleh Foundation, which boasts accolades from former President Bill Clinton, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and others, posted an image of Ayala Yakobzon on its website and asked for money to assist her.
"Ayala a beautiful, bright five-year-old (who) was born with spinal bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down," said the accompanying text. "Aleh Foundation is here to help her family adapt their home to become disabled-accessible, and to ease their staggering financial burdens."
But Midwood parents Masha and Shaul Yakobzon contend in a suit filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Aug. 28 that the campaign has been done "without her permission" and that "monies have been collected but have not been provided to her."
Aleh was established in 1984 to assist disabled children in Israel. A fundraising arm in the U.S. was formed in 1989, according to itswebsite.
The ad was taken off the site recently and replaced with a story of another child. But a still-available cached version is asking for donations ranging from $27 for a pet therapy session to $7,000 for adjustable furniture.
Messages to Aleh, its founder Rabbi Shlomo Braun and administrator Shlomo Berger, who are also named in the suit, were not returned.
The organization raised $523,799 and spent $513,460, leaving just over $10,000 to distribute, according to financial disclosures from 2011, the latest year on record.
But because Aleh is not deemed to be adequately transparent by Charity Navigator, and because “general support” is apparently not viewed as actual programming – even though it may actually be used to pay for programming in Israel – Charity Navigator rated Aleh as a one star charity – making Aleh one of the worst charities in the US by its calculations.
Charity Navigator, a web site that tracks performance of non-profits, gave Aleh a woeful one-star rating.