Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Former NCTS Owner Charged in Charity Scam

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has charged former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series owner Gene Christiansen and others with misuse of charitable funds, alleging that they diverted money from People Against Drugs Affordable Public Housing, Inc., to pay Christiansen’s salary, support the Green Light Racing Craftsman Truck Series team and advance his political career.

The Attorney General has asked the court to prevent further misuse of charitable assets by appointing a temporary receiver, and issuing a temporary injunction against the defendants. A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday, July 21, in Travis County Probate Court.

The charges say that Christensen founded People Against Drugs as a non-profit housing operation that offered “gang and drug-free living environments.” He and three partners allegedly secured government-backed loans to purchase an apartment complex, which they said would offer qualified individuals reduced-cost rent in a drug-free living environment.

However, an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office allegedly revealed that the defendants operated the apartment complex as a for-profit enterprise, generating approximately $2 million in annual rental revenue. Rather than using that revenue to provide reduced-cost housing to the poor, Christiansen and his partners allegedly spent the money on the Green Light Racing Truck Series team, a violation of the Texas Nonprofit Corporation Act.

Court documents also allege that Christensen used People Against Drugs’ financial resources for his own personal financial gain without authorization from the board, paying himself a salary of at least $102,000 beginning in 2001. In 2005, People Against Drugs paid Christensen $181,000, plus benefits and a company vehicle. Christensen also reportedly received a $119,000, interest-free loan from People Against Drugs.

The state also alleges that Christensen used charitable resources to fund an extravagant lifestyle, using People Against Drugs’ credit cards to charge expensive meals, personal items, and hotel stays in exotic locales. He is also alleged to have spent $40,000 in charitable funds to help finance a film that he produced.

During Christensen’s 2008 primary campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, he allegedly “loaned” himself $278,000. Of that sum, $94,500 has been traced back to accounts owned by the charity, and investigators say they have reason to believe that the entire amount came from the charity. That loan has yet to be repaid.

People Against Drugs’ 2005 tax forms indicate the defendants spent millions of charitable dollars on vehicle parts, drivers, mechanics and other Green Light Racing-related expenditures. Christensen justified those expenses by claiming that the trucks advertised his anti-drug message, despite the fact that the charity’s decal was roughly three to four inches in diameter.

In addition to being a team owner, Christiansen made six career NCTS starts as a driver in 2001, with a best finish of 30th at Memphis Motorsports Park.

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