The Texas attorney general’s office announced yesterday that it has sued the Texas Highway Patrol Museum, a nonprofit telemarketing organization based in San Antonio that raises millions of dollars in the name of helping state troopers.
I had always been curious about the museum, which is housed in a brick building at St. Mary’s and Alamo streets but attracts few visitors. In October, we examined the museum’s tax records and found that only a fraction of the nearly $12 million in revenue raised by the museum’s telemarketers actually went towards the charitable causes it touted. For every dollar raised, less than a penny was spent on Department of Public Safety troopers and their families.
Attorney General Greg Abbott’s lawsuit reveals new details about what, exactly, donors’ money was spent on. State investigators obtained financial information and credit card statements from the museum, and found employees had paid for cigars, liquor, vacations, meals and “exorbitant” vet bills for an “office cat.” The lawsuit describes an organization with few controls over how money was spent, and an absentee board that seldom asked questions.
In our last story, I interviewed Scott Henson at the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, who had received a telemarketing call from the museum in August. Scott wasn’t happy that the caller initially claimed to be with the Texas Highway Patrol — as if the caller were really with the Department of Public Safety. “This group is about as much about helping troopers as buzzards are about helping roadkill,” Scott wrote at the time. He called yesterday’s lawsuit “way past time.”
The museum’s assets have been frozen and it’s been closed since Friday. Its lawyer, Kim Brown, called the lawsuit “heavy handed” and said the expenses were justified.
What about the cigars?
Prizes for telemarketers, he said.
Drinks for office parties.
The office cat?
The vet bills for the cat were unavoidable.
The lawsuit lays out more expenses for trips, meals and cars that the state describes as wasteful spending. But Brown said the museum is hardly a fly-by-night organization that defrauds people. The small museum has operated in San Antonio for years, he said, and while it has high overhead costs, it does spend money on charitable causes.
The attorney general is seeking to dissolve the nonprofit museum and its related entities. The next step is a hearing for a temporary injunction that has yet to be scheduled.
Here’s a searchable library of all primary documents we’ve obtained about the museum. If you’ve had any experiences with the museum or its telemarketers, feel free to contact us.