The American Cancer Society has banned an El Paso area charity, “Riding for Boobs,” from using its logo as there are questions about the group’s fundraising practices.
The charity started as a bike run but has grown to four events a year: a walk/run, a bull riding event, and the lighting of the San Elizario mission.
Isela Reyes, founder of the organization, told ABC-7 that her desire to raise money for breast cancer research is personal because she herself is a survivor.
“I had six rounds of chemo. I lost my hair. I had reconstruction surgery in 2015. It’s been a roller coaster,” Reyes said.
To give back, Reyes said she began raising money for the American Cancer Society, or ACS. The “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” logo was prominently displayed on promotional materials for years.
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Now there are questions as to how much was raised and where the money went.
One donor, who spoke with ABC-7 anonymously for fear of retaliation, said she tried to get a receipt from ACS for her donation to Reyes but the organization had no record of it.
“I gave her a check, and they said they had no donation,” she said. “If you’re doing that and collecting money, you’re gonna answer to God. It’s weight on her shoulders. I won’t do it again,” the anonymous donor said.
ABC-7 obtained a copy of a cease and desist letter the ACS sent to Reyes in February asking her to stop using its logo immediately. The letter indicates the two severed ties the previous fall.
In a statement, the American Cancer Society told ABC-7, “”The American Cancer Society has zero tolerance for financial impropriety of any kind and has opened a formal investigation into Riding for Boobs. Per our policy, the American Cancer Society does not release the names or information of individual donors and cannot comment further about the investigation at this time.”
Reyes assured ABC-7 she has made several donations to ACS, including $7,000 one year and a total of more than $55,000 over the years.
However, the American Cancer Society confirmed to ABC-7 it sent a letter to Reyes showing that in the past 7 years, only $13,000 has been raised by Making Strikes and Riding for Boobs, with Isela Reyes being personally credited for raising about $11,500 of that.
For the past three months, ABC-7 has asked Reyes for receipts of donations and tax statements and has not received them. Reyes did send us a photo celebrating a $3,700 donation to ACS back in 2014, and a bank statement from last year showing a $500 donation she says she made as an individual.
The ABC-7 I-Team found “Riding for Boobs” is not a registered non-profit with the IRS. After collecting funds since 2012, “Riding for Boobs” just registered for non-profit status with the Texas Secretary of State in April. As a result, Riding for Boobs became a non-profit corporation, separate from its members, officers or directors, according to Stephen Chang, Director of Communications for the Texas Secretary of State.
That still doesn’t mean Riding for Boobs is tax exempt.
“Creating a Texas nonprofit corporation does not automatically qualify the corporation for a tax-exempt or 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status,” explained Chang. “Exemption from federal or state taxes is not granted by the Secretary of State. The IRS, not the SOS, grants federal tax exemptions, and the Comptroller of Public Accounts, not the SOS, grants state tax exemptions.”
ABC-7 reached out to the Texas Attorney General’s office. Its Financial Litigation and Charitable Trusts division reviews complains of suspicious charitable activities. A spokeswoman said it’s policy to not comment on pending investigations, or confirm an investigation exists.
Meanwhile, the 8th annual “Riding for Boobs” is October 12th and 13th. Reyes said it’s the biggest bike run in the area. The ACS “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” logo is not on the posters for this year’s event.
“This is a chance for her to be transparent about everything and people should, if asking for donations, be transparent about what you’re doing,” said the anonymous donor. “I don’t think people will stop donating to her cause. I’ve been to her event. It’s a beautiful thing.
How to check charities
When it comes to charitable giving, there are ways to be a more informed donor. You can find out if a charity is a non-profit 501(c)3 by clicking here to access Guidestar, an organization that gathers, organizes, and distributes information about U.S nonprofits. Candid also provides a search engine to find 990 IRS forms of organizations that have been granted federal tax exempt status.
Financial Planner Ky Peterson says every nonprofit should have an EIN number in order to get tax donations. For more information, you can search for charities on the IRS website by clicking here.