Feb. 6, 2002. 01:00 AM

The Toronto Star

Abused-women charity skimmed $1M

Kevin Donovan -- Staff Reporter

A Million-Dollar Domestic Violence Funding Fraud

A charity claiming to support abused women and children was actually a scam that put most of the $1 million it raised into the pockets of its directors and their companies, an Ontario judge has ruled.

The National Society for Abused Women and Children has been stripped of its right to collect donations.

In passing judgment, Mr. Justice Ernest Loukidelis of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said he was shocked at how easy it was for a charity to dupe the public.

According to auditors for the Ontario Public Trustee, only $1,365 of $1 million the National Society raised ever went to charitable works.

"The ability and swiftness by which the main principals (of the Society), or indeed anyone acting within the system, can extract from trusting citizens a large amount of money is rather stunning," Loukidelis stated in a Jan. 28 ruling.

Thousands of unsuspecting people donated to the National Society for Abused Women and Children, which claimed to offer domestic violence counselling, a crisis line and a library. None of that was true. Most of the money went to fundraising agencies related to the charity's directors.

"The whole operation was a scheme whereby charity was used as a cover to raise money for the benefit of the (fundraising) agency," the judge said. He recommended that the federal government require charities to tell the public exactly what portion goes to charitable uses.

The Public Trustee took the National Society to court after a series of Toronto Star stories exposed the charity's operations. The case against it was not a criminal action. Instead, the Trustee sought an order to stop the Society's operations.

National Society founder Ronald Perrin had admitted in an interview with The Star that his charity was providing none of the services it told the public it was offering. He also told The Star that almost none of the money raised was going to charitable works, although he hoped that would change in five years when the organization was more established.

In his ruling, the judge lauded the Star's "vigilance" for making the matter public.

The National Society for Abused Women and Children was first granted a charitable number from Canada Customs and Revenue in 1999.

Its application consisted of a brochure, an outdated list of shelters to which it planned to contribute, and a promise to donate at least half of funds raised to shelter work. With 70,000 charities in Canada, the federal agency does little checking.

Based in a Newmarket office, Perrin and associates sent canvassers into neighbourhoods across Ontario with a simple pitch about the plight of abused women and children in Ontario. If pressed, canvassers would tell prospective donors that some of the funds would go to a particular shelter.

The scheme began to unravel a year later, when a canvasser appeared at the door of the executive director of a legitimate domestic violence shelter. The canvasser said the organization was raising money on behalf of that shelter, which the executive director knew to be wrong. The shelter contacted The Star.

"A distinct odour emanates from the facts of this case," Mr. Justice Loukidelis stated.

He noted that neither founder Perrin nor associates Heather Dobbs and Don Corriero have any background or expertise in dealing with abuse of children or women.

The National Society raised money using three fundraising companies, each of which took about 80 per cent of funds raised to cover expenses, a share that, "if known, is bound to shock the conscience of any citizen," the judge stated.

The directors had affiliations with at least two of the agencies, and also took expense account money from the charity.

The judge ordered the directors to repay all money received from the charity if the Public Trustee demands it.

Perrin and his colleagues did not return calls yesterday.