EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

September 23, 2012

Helping himself

Tragedy meant big money for NY minister

(Continued)

The AP first wrote about Keyes and his charities last year, and as the AP expanded its investigation into the minister’s operation, the New York attorney general’s office opened its own probe. In a recent legal filing, the attorney general’s office said it had concerns about the church’s ability to properly oversee its financial affairs and was investigating how it had used its assets. The church, Glad Tidings Tabernacle, has agreed to cooperate with the state investigation.

Relatively few people know of Keyes’ charities — Urban Life Ministries and Aid for the World. But his story offers a disturbing glimpse into how some nonprofits manage to largely avoid scrutiny and keep finances secret, even while raising substantial amounts of money in the name of tragedy. It’s also a story about what can happen to the money of well-meaning donors eager to open their hearts and wallets in the wake of devastation.

Keyes and his lawyer say all payments by his church and charities were proper.

Th

ere is no question that Keyes threw himself into relief work.

Yet he also embellished his accomplishments, according to several people who worked on relief efforts in lower Manhattan. A priest said he didn’t believe Keyes’ colorful stories about breaking into locked ground zero churches on 9/11. And in response to the AP’s questions about a claim that his ground zero soup kitchen had attracted celebrity volunteers like Jerry Seinfeld and actress Susan Sarandon, Keyes acknowledged that they never worked with him.

When Hurricane Katrina struck, Keyes drove to Mississippi to set up a massive volunteer operation and help distribute supplies. But he has yet to account for how his organization raised and spent money on the Gulf Coast.

His Urban Life Ministries charity went a decade without filing the required state and federal reports showing how much money it received and spent. The IRS last year stripped the charity of its tax-exempt status because Keyes failed to submit annual financial disclosures. He operated Aid for the World, which boasted of operating anti-poverty programs on several continents, for more than three years without disclosing its finances.

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