A 34-year-old man has been indicted for defrauding contributors to an organization he established after the Dec. 14, 2012 school shooting in Newtown.
The 26.4.26 Foundation was supposed to raise money for victims’ families, teacher memorials, school safety efforts and related causes. Instead, federal prosecutors allege, Bruce used most of the money to enrich himself or boost the business he owns.
Several of the victim contributors are from Connecticut, according to federal officials.
Charged with wire fraud
Robert Terry Bruce, 34, of Nashville, Tenn., was charged in Connecticut with six counts of wire fraud. He could face up to 20 years in prison on each count.
The indictment had been returned under seal by a New Haven federal grand jury on Feb. 4, and Bruce was arrested on Feb. 13 in Tennessee.
“Creating a fraudulent charity to exploit a tragedy for personal gain is unconscionable,” said Kevin J. Kline, acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Haven Division.
New Hampshire event
According to the indictment, Bruce founded “26.4.26,” an organization that began soliciting charitable donations after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in late 2012.
In early 2013, Bruce allegedly solicited and received contributions to 26.4.26 in connection with a charity athletic event in Gilford, N.H., called the Schools 4 Schools run.
Bruce promoted the event via social media, and solicited contributions to 26.4.26 through an online PayPal account by representing to potential donors that the purpose of the event was “to help raise funds for increased school safety, families of victims, memorials to teacher heroes, awareness and prevention in schools across America,” according to prosecutors.
Bruce further represented to potential donors that “all proceeds will go to the 26.4.26 Foundation,” states the indictment.
The indictment further alleges that, in early 2013, Bruce also solicited contributions to 26.4.26 in connection with a charity athletic event in Tennessee called CrossFit Cares.
As he had in the New Hampshire event, Bruce promoted the event via social media, and solicited contributions to 26.4.26 through PayPal by representing to potential donors that “all proceeds will go to the 26.4.26 Foundation” and that the “mission of 26.4.26 is to provide funding for the families of victims, memorials for teacher heroes and to increase safety in schools across the country,” prosecutors said.
Rather than using the funds raised to support his purported mission, the indictment alleges that Bruce used most of the funds to enrich himself and to support his personal training business.
‘Serves as a warning’
Following his arrest on Feb. 13, Bruce appeared in federal court in Nashville and was released on a $20,000 bond. His arraignment in Connecticut is scheduled for Feb. 23 in Hartford.
“This arrest serves as a warning to anyone who attempts to profit from the tragedy at Sandy Hook,” said Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. attorney for Connecticut.
“With the assistance of the FBI, we will continue to prioritize the investigation of fraudulent schemes that exploit the generosity of donors responding to this tragedy,” Daly said.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Wines of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut.
Daly also acknowledged the assistance provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee.