If you've been reading the heart-wrenching tales of abused and drug-addicted children that accompany the Sun-Sentinel's pitch for contributions to the paper's Children's Fund as avidly as we have, you've no doubt been tempted to reach for your wallet and give till it hurts. After all, these anecdotes of youth gone astray read like mini morality plays for our times: Kid gets hooked on dope, kid finds religion, kid tries to kick the habit with the help of God and the social service agencies funded by generous Sun-Sentinel readers. It's the stuff TV movies and Republican speeches are made of, and it's happening right here in our back yard.

The trouble is, if you gave to the Children's Fund before December 3, you gave to a charity that was operating illegally. Oops.

Any charity that solicits funds in Florida is required to register with the state's Division of Consumer Services. It's a safeguard against shysters asking for money to support causes that don't exist. Charities registered with the state have to file financial information to show they're aboveboard.

It seems the folks who run the Children's Fund, however, just didn't get their homework done on time. The fund kicked off its yearly drive right after Thanksgiving, but it didn't make nice with the state until last week.

We stumbled across this disturbing fact quite by accident. After reading a story about a hard-luck boy who found Jesus, we dabbed our eyes and dialed the phone number the Sun-Sentinel provided right there in the fine print. The nice state employee who answered told us the Children's Fund's account was closed. "Closed?" we shouted. "That can't be! Children's lives are at stake!"

We were referred to Cheryl Fralick in the Consumer Services Division's solicitation's department, who told us, "They need to cease solicitations if they are not currently registered. They are not registered."

Sun-Sentinel marketing manager Andrea Bradley confirmed the screwup, saying the fund is managed by higher-ups in Chicago, where the Sun-Sentinel's parent company is located. The out-of-towners apparently just didn't have their ducks in a row. "I'm sorry that it happened," she says. "As soon as I was notified, it was taken care of." The Sun-Sentinel paid a $25 late fee to the state, and the way is now paved for a torrent of maudlin tales designed to tug at your heartstrings.

In a related development, there remains some question as to what the Sun-Sentinel's redheaded stepchild, City Link, will do with all the cash it grabbed at last Friday's City Link Music Fest. In an obtusely worded "letter from the publisher" in last week's City Link, John Christie notes that in 1998 the fest took in $35,000 and distributed a paltry $3000 to the Children's Fund. The rest went to cover "expenses." Could this terse accounting be the result of a cranky column in the music newspaper Jam calling City Link's benevolence into question? Jam contributor and ex-City Linker Michael Koretzky did the math for the 1998 show and came to the conclusion that a $3000 contribution was a bit tightfisted, considering the bands played gratis and the venues cost nothing. Sure there are expenses involved, but $32,000 worth?

Koretzky watched this year's show from outside the ropes. "I wasn't going to pay the $5 knowing some of my money wasn't going where it was supposed to," he says.

Got a tip? Call 954-233-1581, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].

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Tom Walsh
Contact: Tom Walsh