NEW JERSEY -- State authorities have filed a lawsuit to dissolve a 9/11 charity that was supposed to benefit ailing World Trade Center rescue workers, but instead allegedly spent $75,000 to pay for mortgages, restaurants, dentists and doctors for the organization's two founders.
The state Attorney General's Office and Division of Consumer Affairs filed the suit in Superior Court in Morristown against the 9/11 Rescue Workers Foundation Inc. of Kinnelon after authorities identified questionable payouts during an investigation of the organization's finances, authorities said yesterday.
The state revoked the foundation's nonprofit registration in August. At that time, the group also was prohibited from soliciting in New Jersey, and its founder and president, Frederick Parisi, 40, was barred from heading any charitable organization operating in the state.
The lawsuit seeks to have Parisi and his mother, Jean Street of Passaic County, the foundation's treasurer and other trustee, return money used for noncharitable purposes so it can be given to a similar charity.
Investigators identified 87 transactions in which Parisi or Street signed checks or approved withdrawals that served no apparent charitable purpose, authorities said. The transactions included checks for $27,000 and $20,000 that Street made out to herself, checks to pay private school tuition and an overnight field trip for Parisi's children and numerous cash payments to Parisi and Street totaling thousands of dollars.
"It is outrageous that Parisi and Street solicited donations under the pretense of helping rescue workers who suffered health problems after responding to Ground Zero, but in reality spent the funds on themselves and family members," Attorney General Anne Milgram said in a statement.
No criminal charges have been filed against Parisi or Street involving the 9/11 foundation. A spokesman for the attorney general would neither confirm nor deny whether a criminal investigation is under way.
Reached by telephone, Parisi disputed the lawsuit's contention of impropriety.
"The long and short of it is the attorney general is going to be pretty unhappy when she realizes she's been sent on a seek-and-destroy mission against someone who has done nothing wrong," Parisi said.
He conceded, however, that it was a mistake to pay personal bills out of the foundation checking account and operate it from his Jefferson home.
Parisi said most of the foundation's funds - $73,000 - were donations from a friend, whom he declined to identify. He said the money came in two installments, one for $53,000 and one for $20,000. He also said those funds were given for the purpose of getting the foundation up and running and were never meant to go directly to ailing Ground Zero rescuers or workers.
"I didn't misappropriate funds. The funds were given to me to survive," Parisi said, adding he also sunk some of his own money into the foundation.
"They (law enforcement authorities) never looked at the source of the funds," he said of law enforcement officers. "The $73,000 was not given for rescue workers, it was given to me to get it going. Yes, we paid (personal) bills out of the account, because it was the only account we had."
Street declined to comment.
In the past, Parisi has said he was a heroic New York City police officer who rescued people on Sept. 11, 2001. However, police have said he wasn't at the Twin Towers on 9/11 and did not rescue anyone that day.
The lawsuit also alleges Parisi lied on the registration form when he established the nonprofit group in 2007 by stating he and Street were not relatives. The registration was revoked for that reason, as well as for his falsely listing another man as a board member; failing to notify the state of a change of foundation address; and "Parisi's commission of crimes that were not related to his activities with the foundation," the lawsuit states.
In 2003, Parisi pleaded guilty to impersonating a U.S. Secret Service agent in Little Falls, where he showed agency credentials at a traffic stop. That followed his 1998 arrest in Rochelle Park, where he told a police officer he was a Jersey City police officer. Parisi was convicted that year of impersonating an officer and ordered to pay a $600 fine and court costs.
Parisi was arrested in March on an unrelated charge after allegedly scamming a business partner out of $235,000. That case is pending. His arrest in March came at the 9/11 charity's first major fundraiser - a rock show in Carlstadt - and triggered the Consumer Affairs investigation into the foundation finances.
In another unrelated criminal case that also is pending, Parisi was indicted in August on a charge of second-degree theft of $80,500 from a Jefferson couple who hired him in 2006 to oversee a construction project.
After his arrest in March, Parisi was held in the Morris County jail until December, when he was released on bail.
Jim Lockwood may be reached at email@example.com or (973) 539-7119.