“Kindness into Cash” – exposé of used clothes company Planet Aid – pt. 1

You’ve probably seen those yellow boxes with “Planet Aid” written on the side, asking for your clothing to help out the poor. But tonight: questions about how much of your help is
actually reaching those in need. A FOX-5 investigation found this growing charity might be connected to a controversial group that some people consider a cult. That group — now accused of
turning your kindness into their fortune. Tisha Thompson, here now with more on
this six-month-long investigation — Tisha? Brian, Planet Aid has been in the news before, with groups like the Better Business Bureau
claiming it doesn’t give enough to charity. But our FOX-5 investigation has uncovered evidence
linking it to an alleged cult leader, at the center of an international manhunt. It’s the ultimate rags to riches story —
big, yellow bins banking on your kindness. Well, we love giving our things that don’t
fit our children or ourselves to other people, and it’s easy and convenient. For me, it’s a close place to give. They’re very convenient for me to use. Planet Aid says it now has more than 1,000
of these bins in our area, set up in front of churches, schools and private businesses
— all asking for clothing donations. It’s a busy box — collects a lot of stuff! Charles Frank says he was happy to let
Planet Aid put bins on his gas-station property. The cost of doing all this stuff …
I can’t imagine they could make much money! But federal tax records show this nonprofit
brought in almost $30 million in 2007 by selling the donated items. And then the money that we generate from that, that’s what we donate to projects that we support
in Third World countries — mostly in Africa. In 2005, Planet Aid’s president told FOX-5
it gives millions away to these different charities. But when we took a close look at its most recent tax records, we noticed many of the charities have the same address,
like these in South Africa. But the South African Embassy tells us
these groups are NOT registered charities. Our investigations found ALL of the charities
listed in Planet Aid’s most recent tax returns are controlled by the same parent organization
— a group called International Humana People to People Movement, who, according to its own web-site, also controls Planet Aid. Well, frankly it makes my blood boil to think that
the public is being hoodwinked in this way British journalist Mike Durham spoke to us
via Skype from London. He’s investigated Planet Aid and Humana for the last decade, even creating a watch-dog group devoted to them. I would definitely characterize it as a form of
what is called “transnational organized crime.” He says the British, French and Belgians
shut down Humana-controlled groups, after officials found money was not being used for charity. Instead, European investigators say
the money paid for multimillion-dollar homes, a yacht and off-shore bank accounts
controlled by this man from Denmark: Amdi Pedersen, who some consider a cult leader. Amdi Pedersen began as a … really kind of a 1970s idealist. He created what he considered to be a charity
to help the Third World — to help people. But over a period of time, it evolved into this labyrinth of
corporations and charities that many call a cult. Danish court records from 2002 allege Pedersen
instructed his followers to ensure the money was “protected from theft, taxation and prying by
unauthorized persons” by creating a financial network so complex, it would become
“a twisted access path with only ourselves as compass holders.” Danish authorities say he controls as much as $850 million. Amdi Pedersen has control with a small group
of leaders at the top, and they control everything — all of the charities,
all of the people, and all of the cash flow. The Danish government has tried to shut Pedersen down. In January [2009], one of his top assistants was
convicted for tax-fraud and embezzlement. But Pedersen vanished during the trial
and has managed to evade an international manhunt. … and if he goes back to Denmark, he will be prosecuted. Planet Aid refused to do an on-camera interview
with FOX-5, but did tell us in a statement it was “not aware of a recent trial in Denmark
that is linked to Planet Aid,” and Pedersen does not have “any relationship with the organization.” As for calling it a cult, Planet Aid says
that’s “a most ridiculous claim.” But on its own website, Planet Aid admits
some of its members do belong to Pedersen’s group, claiming it’s “a lifestyle choice that may not be for everyone.” Planet Aid may present itself as a charity, and its
representatives will go blue in the face saying, “Yes, it is a charity.” Placed in its context as part of a really large and shady organization … — no, it’s not a charity; it’s a means of making money. Now, we want to make clear that Planet Aid and its parent charity — International Humana People-to-People Movement — are not part of the well-known American healthcare company
called Humana. You may have heard of them before. Everyone we’ve talked to says there is reason to believe
some of the money made from selling the donated clothing does end up with some charitable group. But it’s such a small percentage; critics say it would still not be considered a charity by state regulators if they took a close look. And Brian and Shawn, our FOX-5 investigation is far from over. Tomorrow we’re really going to explain why
people think Amdi Pedersen is a cult leader, and we’re going to hear from some of his followers. That’ll be interesting to hear.
Tisha Thompson, thank you.