Thrift store misleads public over 'benefiting leukemia' claims - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Thrift store misleads public over 'benefiting leukemia' claims

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Helping Hands Thrift Store Helping Hands Thrift Store
The owner's truck claims the thrift store's profits are "benefitting [sic] leukemia." The owner's truck claims the thrift store's profits are "benefitting [sic] leukemia."
Thrift store owner Randy Johnson Thrift store owner Randy Johnson
Shane Stuber of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Shane Stuber of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) - When the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is out raising money for blood cancers, it's not all about research.

Patients like Kim Kremer get financial help for everything from co-pays to gasoline from donations to the charity, and that has come in handy since Kremer's diagnosis of stage 4 lymphoma.

[WEB EXTRA: Resources to check out before donating to charity]

"You don't want to worry about all that at the time, and sometimes you're too sick to worry about that," said Kremer, "so it's nice someone picks up the slack for you."

That kind of help was promised at Helping Hands Thrift Store in Jeffersonville. There were large signs on the business and its trucks proclaiming "benefiting Leukemia," and workers handed out coupons that read, "benefitting [sic] Leukemia & Lymphoma Society."

When we went into the store undercover with a hidden camera and microphone and asked if the Leukemia Society is the beneficiary, owner Randy Johnson told us, "everything in here goes to leukemia research." We got the Leukemia Society sell again on hidden camera when we went back undercover to donate goods to the store.

"You guys give donations to leukemia/lymphoma?" our producer asked.

"Everything," Johnson responded. "My son has leukemia. Nobody here gets paid. I don't get paid. They've come a long way. It might take one more dollar from a strange little store like this to do it."

But the relationship with the charity Johnson says he's collecting for is rather odd.

"We have not gone back in the store because he told us specifically we weren't welcome," said Shane Stuber of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. "However, he keeps using our name in trying to leverage us for what appears to be his shop's gain."

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society asked WAVE 3 News to look into the Helping Hands Thrift Store after receiving only one donation of $750 a year-and-a-half ago.

"After that, he had promised, made all kinds of promises of what he was going to bring to LLS, and that's why he was utilizing our name, and nothing came of it," said Stuber. "At the end of the day, we're not looking to get more money from him. We just don't want people to think that when they give items to the store that they're benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society because that's not happening."

Store owner Randy Johnson then admitted only one donation to the Leukemia Society 18 months ago.

"You still hand out 'benefiting Leukemia/Lymphoma Society' coupons?" I asked.

"They're just old ones," Johnson replied.

"Do you think you should be handing that out if it's not benefiting Leukemia/Lymphoma Society?" I asked.

"It is benefiting leukemia. My son has leukemia. All the money goes there," he said.

"To your son?" I asked.

"No, to leukemia research. We send money to St. Jude's," Johnson replied.

But St. Jude Children's Research Hospital shows no donations from Helping Hands Thrift Store or owner Randy Johnson for at least 10 years.

"It doesn't go in that way," said Johnson.

"How does it go in?" I asked.

"Different ways. I don't know buddy," he said.

Johnson's business Facebook page claimed "we are a not-for-profit company," but he's not registered as a non-profit with the state or the IRS.

"Your Facebook page says that you're a not for profit company," I said.

"There's a difference between a 503C and what I'm doing," Johnson replied, "because what I'm doing is sending my money to help leukemia research."

"What can you tell us about who you're sending money to and how?" I asked.

"A lot of times it just goes over the internet," he said. "Try it yourself and it'll say you want to send money, and you can and that's what we do."

Johnson can't show us records of any leukemia research donations.

"We've made no money," Johnson said.

Then Johnson said he isn't making donations because his store isn't making any money. His books show the thrift store brought in about $4,000 a month, minus $2,500 rent. But his Facebook page shows off his new house.

"My wife works. I work out of here. I make money. We do okay," he said.

"But you just told me 'we don't make any money," I said.

"Not off this stuff. I don't make any money off anything here," Johnson said. "I also just told you, no maybe I didn't, I just filled up the truck with stuff I bought at yard sales for me to sell. It's mine. Am I not allowed to do that?"

Johnson said the sales of some of the items he brings in here go to him, not his store that's so poor it can't afford to give to leukemia research.

"You're just being silly. You are," he said. "If I buy something I should be allowed to sell it. It has nothing to do with this store."

The next day, the "benefiting leukemia" signs were down.

"That's always been planned. That was planned a week ago," Johnson said. "We're supposed to have a storm, The letters blow out."

And one new sign was up, that reads "We have sent a little money to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. But we will never, ever, ever do it again."

At our request, the President of the regional Better Business Bureau took a closer look. Charles Mattingly said there is no corporate record for Helping Hands with the Secretary of State. After reviewing our report, he called it a "perfect example of deceptive solicitations and sales by a thrift store" and "people donating or purchasing are being misled if they believe there is a charitable benefit."

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