San Diego County reviewing grants to charity after Las Vegas fundraiser | #tinder | #pof | #match | #sextrafficking


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During a three-day “recovery” operation that ended last month, volunteers from the nonprofit Saved In America said they would work to find 11 girls missing from Las Vegas area homes.

The effort sought to locate young women suspected of being victims of human trafficking.

It also was a fundraising event, widely promoted by Saved in America founder Joseph Travers, a former police officer and private investigator in San Diego County. He said he needed $15,000 to cover expenses.

“Can you help us today by making a donation,” read the Saved In America announcement. It is only with your support that we can continue to assist parents and law enforcement in the recovery of missing and runaway children at risk for being trafficked in the U.S.”

Though volunteers said they would contact police if they found any of the missing girls, it is not clear if any girls were recovered.

The Las Vegas project was billed as a joint operation with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. It was not.

“LVMPD did not participate in a joint operation with Saved in America,” the department said in a statement last week.

Local television stations broadcast news stories about the event, describing how Saved In America volunteers used electronic surveillance devices, high-end cameras, hand-held radios and other investigative tools to track potential sex-traffickers.

“This is real,” Travers said in an interview with Fox5 in Las Vegas. “This is almost as prevalent as drug trafficking. A drug trafficker can only sell his product once, but he can sell a girl over and over again.”

That message may sound familiar to San Diego County law enforcement officials and others. Travers has told San Diego-area politicians, donors and reporters the same thing for years.

In marketing videos and press statements, Travers regularly leverages the fear and anguish raised by the prospect of young girls being sold into sex trafficking to generate revenue for Saved In America, which is more than two decades old.

The Las Vegas action, held between April 29 and May 1, featured a mobile command center and other equipment paid for with $305,000 in grants from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, according to news coverage and county officials.

As a result of the event, San Diego County officials want to know if the charity violated the terms of those grants, which prohibit using public funds to generate donations, said county spokesman Michael Workman.

“We are reviewing the past grants to see if there is any recourse,” Workman said by email. “However, it’s important to note that SIA was running on a series of one-year agreements. Those have since expired and were not renewed.”

Saved In America remains eligible for San Diego County grant funds, though the charity is not permitted to use the proceeds to raise donations, Workman said.

“SIA continues to offer irresistible material to local media. Just like they did here. This Las Vegas development is not surprising,” he said.

Travers did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

He has told The San Diego Union-Tribune in prior interviews that his organization has helped recover children and that every public dollar he accepted was spent on equipment and other tools called for under terms of the county grants.

As he has with other Saved In America actions, Travers relied on the mobile command center San Diego County paid for to conduct the Las Vegas event. The vehicle is an RV equipped with communications and other gear that is supposed to help locate trafficking victims.

Former San Diego County supervisor Kristin Gaspar, one of Travers’ biggest supporters who also served on Saved In America’s advisory board, directed at least $105,000 in public grants to the organization during her single term in county office, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2019.

Those funds and $200,000 in other county grants directed by former supervisors Greg Cox, Bill Horn and Ron Roberts helped pay for the command center and other Saved In America projects.

Gaspar also recommended that Saved In America become the operator of a $2 million shelter for sex-trafficking victims Gaspar wanted the county to open in 2019.

At the time, Gaspar did not disclose her seat on the charity’s advisory board or her role serving as chair of its gala fundraiser, the Union-Tribune reported. Her office said that no disclosure was necessary.

Gaspar lost her re-election bid to Terra Lawson-Remer last November.

Last month, two weeks after the Las Vegas operation, Lawson-Remer formally ended plans for Saved In America to manage the proposed shelter for sex-trafficking victims.

She said the county should not have bought an RV for Saved In America, and she redirected the shelter money to park upgrades, infrastructure repairs and other neighborhood priorities.

“I read the local investigative reporting when I was running for office, and I was extremely concerned about the ethical and financial consequences of the county continuing to do business with Saved In America,” Lawson-Remer said, referring to stories by the Union-Tribune and other local media. “They never should have received public funds to begin with.”

The National Christian Information Center, which is based in Oceanside, is the nonprofit that conducts business as Saved In America. The charity has claimed to have rescued 250 children since it was established more than a decade ago.

Travers acknowledged in 2019, in an extended interview with the Union-Tribune, that the majority of those rescues were young people who had wandered away from the Casa de Amparo group home for at-risk teenagers.

Travis said the San Marcos facility hired his private security firm to patrol the grounds, and any time a child left the property —even for a few minutes — he counted their return as “recoveries.”

Tax records filed by the National Christian Information Center show Travers was paid tens of thousands of dollars by the nonprofit, which by 2019 had a reported annual revenue of nearly $2 million.

Public records show Travers created a separate charity — Saved In America Inc. — in 2018. The newer nonprofit paid Travers $34,000 in 2019, federal tax filings show.

The same records contain conflicting information about cash transfers between the two organizations during the 2019 calendar year.

Specifically, Saved In America Inc. reported collecting $590,000 from the National Christian Information Center in the 2019 tax year. That same year, the National Christian Information Center said it sent $463,000 to Saved In America.

The records also show the two charities paid $360,000 in management fees to unspecified companies in 2018 and 2019 and over $200,000 to Travers and other board members, including Travers’ son, Joshua.

Questions about National Christian Information Center finances prompted one high-profile donor to sue the tax-exempt organization in 2019, alleging fraud.

The lawsuit filed by San Diego business leader and philanthropist William Lynch accused Saved In America of mishandling a $1.5 million gift made by the family trust he administered two years earlier.

According to the legal complaint, Travers agreed to direct half the money to a separate charity and $240,000 to a special account that would allow Saved In America to hire a professional fundraiser.

But the plaintiffs said the money was not properly invested.

“Neither SIA or Travers have provided an accounting to plaintiffs for the use of the funds it received,” the lawsuit said. Instead, the defendants were “spending money donated by plaintiffs for purposes other than the charitable purposes for which they were donated.”

Travers and other defendants filed a cross-complaint, asserting among other claims that it was Lynch who mishandled trust funds.

The case and cross-complaint were dismissed last month in a joint stipulation filed by both sides. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs and defendants did not respond to requests for comments.





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