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Charity Cheats: Donors Warned to Contribute with Caution

Updated: Tuesday, November 12 2013, 10:03 AM EST

There's a good chance many will soon be celebrating the holidays by giving to those in need. Today more people are now turning to the internet to decide who needs help the most.

But donors should contribute with caution because, in some cases, what appears to be a plea for help may really be just a plea for cash.

It has been almost a decade, but at one home on the edge of Washington, memories of a violent night are still fresh. Kena Hodges was a professional athlete, a standout on her Swedish Pro Basketball team. But back in Maryland nothing could rival the force of her fiancee; especially on the night she told him she was pregnant. It was not the news Kimani Johnson wanted to hear. "He climbed on top of me and started shoving aspirin down my throat," Hodges said. "And I'm fighting and hearing the doctor say...this will make you have a miscarriage...aspirin will do that..."

Hodges escaped with her life that night and seven months later gave birth to a healthy baby who she named Kristian. After a short stay in prison Hodges says Johnson showed little interest supporting his son. Not only did he refuse visits with his son but he also refused demands for child support.

His unpaid child support had climbed into the thousands and Kena Hodges had almost stopped fighting -- until she made a chilling discovery.

On a website called "Give Forward" she found a photo of her son, and a plea for help. "Hi my name is Kristian," the story began. "I have a defect in my heart called VSD that is progressing into a terminal state."

Hodges had stumbled onto one of two online fundraisers which asked readers to give so little Kristian could live. But Kristian has hardly been sick a day in his life. 

At one point over 100 people had contributed more than $11,000 to the online fundraiser. The beneficiary of the donations? Kimani Johnson.

When FOX45 went searching for an explanation at the Hyattsville home where the court says Kimani Johnson still lives, no one was willing to find him.

Hodges says the website did little to investigate the validity of the ad involving her son.

"It did nothing to verify that this child is, in fact, sick," privacy attorney Anne McKenna representing Hodges said. "That takes little time."

FOX45 reached out several times to the "Give Forward" website but they would not do an on camera interview. The website states that it makes every effort to investigate suspect fundraisers but admits to its readers, "We cannot claim responsibility for the accuracy of each fundraiser."

The case has ignited a fight at the federal courthouse and it centers on the Communications Decency Act -- the long-standing federal law that protects websites from content posted on the site from third parties.

According to the law, third parties that post unlawful content are liable for that content not the website that publishes it.

In this case, Hodges' attorney insists the site is responsible, accusing it of helping to develop the content - it even assigned a fundraising coach to assist.

"This isn't just a put something on craigslist and sell it or put something on craigslist and say 'I have a medical emergency can someone help me,' this is a co-developed product," McKenna said.

But in court documents filed this month, an attorney for 'Give Forward' vehemently denies the accusation saying, "Just because a fundraising coach is assigned does not mean the fundraising coach provides content to a fundraiser."

In fact, in this case, the site insists, "Kimani Johnson never contacted the fundraising coach."

Those who contributed to the fundraiser are saying that their donations are being returned -- but their trust could be gone for good.

While a federal judge determines whether the incident violated the federal communications law The state's attorney's office in Prince George's County is probing whether to press criminal charges in the case.

Charity Cheats: Donors Warned to Contribute with Caution


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