Nearly four months after Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, one major charity is having its operations and motives questioned. The Sandy Relief Foundation raised about $1 million in the wake of the storm, but according to an investigation by the Asbury Park Press, few of those funds have been released. It’s also not a tax-exempt organization, as its website claims.
The Sandy Relief Foundation is run by John Sandberg and his girlfriend, Christina Terraccino. Sandberg says he began planning for the foundation just before Sandy hit New Jersey and records indicate that the two filed paperwork to incorporate the foundation as a nonprofit corporation in New Jersey on October 30, 2012.
Though it’s not officially tax exempt, the two founders claim that tax exemptions can be filed retroactively once they gain official nonprofit status. The couple is getting help on their IRS application from Melanie Swift, who is a nonprofit expert. She said she had told the two to take down the “tax-exempt” status claim previously.
According to Sandberg, the delay in funds distribution is due to a large backlog of applicants. He says those on the waiting list should receive gift cards within 30 days if they qualify for aid.
There are some who have already received aid from the Foundation, such as Michael Armstrong, who says he was given two gift cards to Lowe’s totaling $500.
They were gracious enough to stop in the Highlands and they checked everything out and they gave us gift cards,” he said.
But because the foundation isn’t officially registered in New Jersey—or any other state—it technically isn’t supposed to be allowed to fund raise there. Many are beginning to question the operations of the organization as a whole. A few other details uncovered by the Asbury Park Press make Sandberg seem less than trustworthy. He never received a degree from Steton Hall University (as the resume claims he did) and two of the foundations corporate sponsors say they’re not affiliated with the charity at all.
The Sandy Relief Foundation’s website claims that it was founded “by the victoms for the victims” of the storm. “We decided to take it upon ourselves to bring attention to our neighbors in need of immediate relief. With no funding, and limited resources we started our journey to raise donation to bring necessary supplies to local shelters, restore power, clean up debris, and rebuild communities,” it reads. “With an anticipated 6-8 year recovery and 2 year clean up this will not be a sprint, it will be a marathon.”