Call For Action Investigation: A Van for Jesse

A "Wishes are Possible" video shows the nonprofit's CEO, Bill Jennings with Jesse Gill and his mother, Jenny Wood.

"I don't see any reason why we should not be able to raise $32,000," Jennings says. "Understand this. This is. Right now, you are, for a lack of a better word, you are my mission. You are my mission."

With those words, Jennings launched a campaign to help Colorado Springs teen, Jesse Gill, in December of 2009. Jesse suffers from a rare congenital disorder called Arthrogryposis.

His mother, Jenny, says his joints are fixed. They don't move, restricting him to a special reclining wheelchair.

"We've been told he has the worst case in all the U.S. His hips do not bend. His joints are fixed, so it's very hard for us to find equipment at all," Jenny said.

That's why Jenny and Jesse were so excited that the non-profit wanted to raise $32,000 to buy him a van which could accommodate his motorized wheelchair.

Jesse says, "I am taken care of all the time by my mother, and she's a great mom, but I would like some independence."

It's very difficult for Jenny to get Jesse into the SUV they currently own. She has just inches to spare. So she was thrilled to jump right into fundraising efforts for "Wishes are Possible."

She and Jesse were invited to a bowling fundraiser in the Denver area, where they told their story.

Then, five months later, a motorcycle group held an event for Jesse.

No events were held that fall. In fact, Jenny got an e-mail from Jennings in November 2010, apologizing and blaming the economy for a lack of funds. He also said his group had just gotten its official charity status, and he was hopeful they'd be able to raise more money that way.

A few weeks later, Wishes are Possible made changes to Jesse's home, paying $700 in material and asking a contractor to volunteer his services. They widened doorways so Jesse could get around more easily.

Jesse and Jenny say they were grateful for the work and were really looking forward to getting the van.

In February 2011, a fundraiser for Jesse was held at Mr. Biggs in Colorado Springs. In August, another one was held at a Sky Sox game.

Jenny says she and Jesse were there on the baseball field as a plea was made.

The sold out crowd was asked to send an immediate text to donate $1 to Jesse's van and to buy $20 raffle tickets for a chance to win a shiny red Corvette.

Jenny was told that the first 700 tickets sold would cover the cost of the '77 Corvette. That's $14,000 worth.

Anything beyond that would go towards Jesse's van.

A local radio station even starting running commercials to sell raffle tickets and videos were posted on You Tube.

Jenny says she was told a raffle would be held in September or October. One of Jesse's former teachers, Lauren Lehman, bought two tickets.

"We thought the car was going to be given away in October, and it wasn't given away in October," Lehman said. "I heard they were still selling tickets and I thought that was odd."

Odd indeed when you consider the Colorado secretary of state's office closely regulates raffles, requiring nonprofits to meet certain rules.

Jenny became worried and contacted Call for Action, asking 11 News to check it out.

We discovered there are several rules for raffling a car that weren't followed at all.

Colorado nonprofits have to obtain the vehicle title first, before the raffle is held. They also have to keep all the money in a separate bank account and even get a special license from the state. Lastly, they have to clearly state on the tickets themselves when and where the raffle will take place.

These tickets don't have that.

So what about that Corvette?

KKTV 11 News found it sitting in a lot for sale at a Colorado Springs car dealership.

11 News decided to pay Bill Jennings a visit.

We started by asking how much was raised on Jesse's behalf.

Jennings responded, "Specifically for Jesse's van? If you compare what it cost to put on an event and the money that came into the event, you know if you compare them... I would say zero."

Jennings says he and his volunteers have great intentions, truly hoping to grant wishes and make peoples' lives better.

To date, despite all the good deeds his nonprofit has done, he says they've operated in the red. He says almost every wish has been granted from money out of his own pocket.

Jennings says he even offered to give Jenny a check for money raised from the other events, but Jenny told 11 News she couldn't accept it.

When asked, "Who won the red Corvette?"

Jennings answered, "I have no idea. You see, I didn't put that contest on."

"But you're the founder and the CEO of this nonprofit, right?" we asked.

Jennings answered, "I understand. Yes, I am the founder and CEO of the nonprofit, and I have a public relations girl who was working with a company in Colorado Springs."

Jennings directed us to "Wishes are Possible" volunteer Tiffany Membery and her boyfriend, Brian Cannady.

We got them on the phone, and they said they'd recently been contacted by the Colorado secretary of state's office and were in the process of working with Springs Automotive Group to give the money back.

KKTV tried several times to set up a meeting with the dealership's owner, Guy Alldredge.

Alldredge did promise to e-mail a response to our questions about the raffle, but so far we hasn't received it.

He did say that 131 raffle tickets were sold, totaling $2,620, but the car never was raffled off because there was never enough money raised.

Alldredge says he never knew the nonprofit had to get the title from him ahead of time. Cannady says he also didn't realize he'd done anything wrong.

KKTV 11 News did contact the Colorado secretary of state's office.

A spokesman says no charges will be filed because the dealership is working to return everyone's money and it all appears to be there.

So far, most of the raffle funds have been returned, but Springs Auto Group is having trouble finding 25 people. In the meantime, they're holding onto the money and hoping the 25 people will call or come in and claim it.

Jesse never did get a minivan to accommodate his motorized wheelchair. He and his mother Jenny are very disappointed, and they're still hoping that someday he'll get the freedom he's looking for.

Jennings says he's disappointed and wishes things could have turned out differently. He says he's launched a new business in an attempt to make some money for his charity.

The best advice before giving to any nonprofit is to do your research, and make sure it's worthy of your dollars.


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