MONTVILLE, N.J. — Homeless veterans. Breast cancer survivors. Disabled police officers. Children with leukemia.
In the name of helping these people and others like them, a private telemarketing company has for years solicited millions from donors while keeping the vast majority of the cash for itself.
The company, Outreach Calling, raised more than $118 million on behalf of about two dozen charities from 2011 to 2015, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state government records. The company kept $106 million of this haul, leaving $12.2 million — or 10.3 percent — for its client charities.
Now Outreach Calling is expanding into the highly unregulated realm of political fundraising. In the first nine months of the year, the company has kept $1.3 million out of the $1.5 million raised for a veterans-focused political action committee that’s emerged ahead of critical 2018 midterm elections.
The man New York state regulators say is the driving force behind Outreach Calling is Mark Gelvan, a wealthy 49-year-old New Jersey businessman whom they banned in 2004 from fundraising in New York, in part because his solicitors impersonated police officers when they asked for donations.
It’s not against the law for telemarketers to keep most of the donations they raise. It is illegal to mislead prospective donors or lie to them about how their contributions will be used, said Jim Sheehan, head of the charities bureau for the office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
Nonprofit watchdogs say the most effective organizations spend no more than 25 percent of their expenses on fundraising and overhead. CharityWatch, a nonprofit that analyzes charities’ financial statements, has given an “F” on an A+ to F scale to 13 of 16 charities that contracted with Outreach Calling in 2016 and 2017.
Two of the charities that hired Outreach Calling have been shut down by the New York attorney general’s Office in recent years, and Gelvan — whose wife owns multi-million dollar properties in New Jersey and Florida — remains under New York state investigation, according to court documents.
Banned for life
Gelvan’s work in fundraising spans decades and states.
In 1989, at age 21, Gelvan formed the fundraising company All-Pro Telemarketing Associates Corp. with two business partners, according to New Jersey business records. Within seven months, Gelvan was the sole director.
Over the next decade, he took on a stable of charities as clients, including groups with heartstring-tugging names such as the American Foundation for Disabled Children, the Committee for Missing Children and the Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center Inc.
Gelvan stood out among his competition in the telemarketing world, according to an analysis of reports produced by the New York Attorney General.
In 2003, the average telemarketing company registered in New York to raise charitable contributions sent about 34 cents out of every dollar it raised back to the nonprofit that hired it and kept about 66 cents for itself, according to a report published by the New York attorney general’s office in 2004.
Gelvan’s All-Pro Telemarketing Associates Corp. fell far short of that average: it raised $4.2 million in 2003 and gave $550,774.96 back to the 15 charities it was working with, according to the report. Those charities received, on average, 13.3 cents out of every dollar Gelvan’s company raised for them.
Regulators took notice.
According to a complaint the New York Attorney General filed against him in 2002, Gelvan had raised $5.8 million from New York residents from 1996 to 2001 on behalf of the Fraternal Order of New York State Troopers Inc. Less than $900,000 of the $5.8 million All-Pro Telemarketing Associates Corp. raised during this period went to the troopers charity.
The New York State Attorney General’s office alleged that Gelvan’s solicitors pretended they were police officers when asking for donations.
After settling the case in 2004 and agreeing never to raise funds in New York again, Gelvan changed the name of his company from All-Pro Telemarketing Associates Corp. to All-Pro Associates Corp., according to records from the New Jersey Division of Revenue. Gelvan changed the company’s name again, in late 2005, to Outsource 3000 Inc.
The New York attorney general’s office says in court documents it believes Gelvan, through Outsource 3000, is financially linked to Outreach Calling, the telemarketing company that has kept 90 percent of the more than a hundred million dollars it has raised for charities in recent years.
The phantom at the top
Outsource 3000 is based at 150 River Road in Montville, New Jersey, according to New Jersey’s business records, but it’s not easy to find.
The office is about four miles from the $2.6 million gated home Gelvan’s wife owns in the tony Valhalla Estates neighborhood, overlooking Lake Valhalla.
Gelvan and his wife, Lina, bought the lot together in 2001, but Lina became the sole owner in 2002, two months after the New York Attorney General’s office filed a complaint against Gelvan and All-Pro Telemarketing Associates. Gelvan is registered to vote at the address of the Valhalla Estates home, which was built in 2008 on the lot Lina Gelvan owns.
When the Center for Public Integrity visited Outsource 3000’s office building last month, a directory listing for the company’s suite didn’t name the company. Instead, the sign said “ALL DELIVERIES.” The door to the suite was labeled “Mail Response Services.”
When asked if the office was the headquarters for Outsource 3000, a receptionist said no, it was the New Jersey office of Outreach Calling. When the reporter asked for Gelvan, the receptionist said he wasn’t in, but that she’d pass along a message. (Gelvan did not return the message left at his office or multiple calls to his cell phone.)
Damian Muziani, an aspiring actor, is listed as the sole owner of Outreach Calling.
Muziani exchanged several emails with the Center for Public Integrity but did not agree to be interviewed on the record for this story.
Numerous calls to Outreach Calling were fielded by people working for an answering service, and messages seeking comment were not returned.
Court documents filed in May by New York regulators allege that Outreach Calling is effectively controlled by Gelvan; the documents make no mention of Muziani.