Attorney General outlines fraud investigation
Scrutiny of Maras-Lindeman intensifies
Allegations of consumer fraud – not harassment and conspiracy – are behind an investigation of a Minot event organizer, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Wednesday.
Stenehjem released information regarding an investigation into alleged violations of the consumer fraud laws and charitable solicitation laws by Terpsehore “Tore” Maras-Lindeman in her effort to organize A Magic City Christmas show last year. The Attorney General initiated the investigation in early December and went to district court to obtain information from Maras-Lindeman, who earlier this year announced her intention to run for Minot mayor.
The judge ruled for the Attorney General, and Maras-Lindeman appealed with a request for misdemeanor charges of oppression, breech of duty, criminal conspiracy and harassment against Stenehjem and others in his office.
“We are required to enforce the charitable solicitation laws for the protection of the public,” Stenehjem stated in Wednesday’s release. “Efforts by Ms. Maras-Lindeman to characterize the investigation as other than that, including her spurious effort at a frivolous ‘criminal complaint,’ do not help. We are therefore determined to see that this matter concludes in a court of law.”
Stenehjem’s release stated his office initiated the investigation after its consumer protection division received a media inquiry about claims made by Maras-Lindeman in fund-raising solicitations for a holiday concert to benefit charities in Minot. Maras-Lindeman is not registered as a charity or professional fundraiser.
“The charitable solicitation law and consumer fraud laws were enacted to protect members of the public. When anyone fails to comply with the reasonable requirements of these laws, it is my office’s duty to investigate and take any necessary action to protect consumers,” Stenehjem said.
When the consumer protection investigators made the initial contact with Maras-Lindeman, they informed her that state law requires a person to register with the Secretary of State before soliciting any charitable contributions and recommended that she discontinue fund raising until she had registered with the Secretary of State. The Attorney General reported Maras-Lindeman ignored the investigators and continued to solicit donations using the online fundraising sites GoFundMe and Fundly, through Facebook, her website and by using direct solicitations to businesses in the Minot area.
As the investigation proceeded, investigators learned that Maras-Lindeman also had misrepresented her affiliation with both the Bank of North Dakota and the City of Minot in her solicitations, Stenehjem said.
“Without permission, and even after being advised that the Bank of North Dakota could not be a sponsor, Maras-Lindeman used the bank’s logo in her website solicitations, magiccitychristmas.com. She also used the coin of the City of Minot on her website and Facebook page, even after the city had repeatedly asked her to remove it,” stated the Attorney General’s release. “Maras-Lindeman ignored the city’s attempts to contact her and as a result, on Oct. 27, the City of Minot was forced to issue a press release disclaiming any involvement with Maras-Lindeman or A Magic City Christmas. After the supposed benefit concert was then canceled, Maras-Lindeman continued to sell items, now claiming the proceeds were intended for homeless shelters.”
The Attorney General reports the investigation, which is ongoing, has been hampered by Maras-Lindeman’s refusal to provide requested documentation. The release stated Maras-Lindeman has refused to provide “information about her supposed charitable efforts, or even to be consistent in her responses.”
“Maras-Lindeman has admitted to investigators that the money she raised from the solicitations went directly into the bank account for her business, ML Labs. Maras-Lindeman claimed that ML Labs (also known as ML Laboratory) was registered as a business entity in North Dakota, but only after the investigation was initiated did Maras-Lindeman register the trade name ‘ML Labs-Events’ with the Secretary of State,” the release continued.
Stenehjem said it has been difficult to determine the truth among Maras-Lindeman’s various claims. However, he confirmed that the investigation has determined that Maras-Lindeman has engaged in prohibited or questionable expenditures of donated funds received for A Magic City Christmas.
Bank records confirm that donations were deposited in an October 2017 account and some donations later were used for purchases of fast food and QVC purchases, he said. He added there also is evidence to suggest that when her personal bank account funds were depleted, Maras-Lindeman made personal expenditures from the donated funds accounts.
“My office offered Ms. Maras-Lindeman a very reasonable settlement for her violations of the charitable solicitation laws and misrepresentations to the public in connection with her solicitations and, unfortunately, she declined the settlement,” said Stenehjem. “Although she has every right to choose to contest the allegations, she must cooperate with our lawful investigation. Instead, she has chosen to make false claims about the purpose or nature of the investigation.”
“They have no right to information because this is a charade,” Maras-Lindeman said Wednesday. She said she did not solicit donations, nor were donations obtained. She said she sold advertising that was to go on tickets, programs, T-shirts and wristbands. All but the programs were printed, she said.
She added she had been unaware that her bank records were obtained by the Attorney General, but she admitted advertising money was co-mingled in her account.
“I might have been using my own account, but I was tracking every single penny,” she said. She said money taken for personal use was reimbursement for personal funds spent to front advertising expenses.
She said the use of the bank’s logo was an error that was rectified once caught. She also felt she had permission to use the city coin, given to her by a council member, and she denied the city had been making multiple attempts to reach her or that she ignored them.
Maras-Lindeman said the event was being held as a fundraiser for construction of a flood memorial monument. Some entertainers had indicated they separately wanted to additionally provide donations for local charities, she said.
The Attorney General stated he is also concerned that Maras-Lindeman has been involved in many lawsuits in North Dakota and other states with different name variations.
Maras Lindeman said she brought small claims cases against companies on three occasions in North Dakota. She disclosed she also was charged in Oregon for cigarette littering.