Red clothing donation bins deceive residents

The Northern Light, Washington/December 9, 2009

An innocuous red metal donation box sits on the edge of the Wolten's True Value store's parking lot on Peace Portal Drive in Blaine, inviting donations of used clothing and shoes. Two more are at the Truck Crossing Chevron Station at H Street and Highway 543. A sign on the boxes encourages donations, saying that the sponsor, "U'SAgain," pronounced "use again," cooperates with "schools, non-profits, city recycling programs and local businesses." Though the sign also identifies U'SAgain as a commercial company the inference is that by throwing your old clothes, shoes and bedding into their box you're supporting some kind of charitable enterprise.

Not true, according to a report shown on KIRO-TV recently. Not only is there little if any charitable connection but the boxes cost legitimate charities by diverting material that otherwise could be sold to support local programs.

More ominously, there appears to be a connection with European criminal interests. It's enough for a Ferndale man who has been checking into U'SAgain to only go on record if his name was not used.

He said that public prosecutors in Denmark have linked U'SAgain to the Tvind Teachers Group, a controversial European humanitarian organization whose top leaders were tried in 2003 in Denmark for serious financial crimes.

One Teachers Group leader was subsequently found guilty of fraud, and sentenced to 30 months in prison.

"The CEO and president of U'SAgain, Mattias Wallander and Janice Bostic, have told television news reporters that they are dues-paying members of the Teachers Group, but they expect us to believe that their company doesn't have anything to do with the Teachers Group. I just don't buy that."

He added that mayors in Ferndale and Sedro-Woolley have both asked U'SAgain to remove their boxes from city property. Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic has circulated a Better Business Bureau report from Denver about the supposed charity to local businesses.

According to KIRO, the connection with Tvind is through a Belize corporation, Fairbank, Cooper and Lyle, that controls both Tvind and U'SAgain.

Both Jerry Wolten, owner of the True Value Hardware, and Andrew Shin, who works at the Chevron station, said they didn't realize that U'SAgain was a for-profit business. Shin said that when donation boxes were placed on their property last year, "we were led to believe that they were a charity."

The boxes are often placed rent-free with businesses who do not realize that U'SAgain is a for-profit company, according to the KIRO report.

Former U'SAgain vice-president Lee White was quoted in the KIRO interview saying "We never mentioned to businesses where we wanted to locate that we were for profit, because then they would have said ‘What's in it for me?' and we would have had to pay rent for the space. I lied every day I was on the job scouting locations."

According to their website, U'SAgain is a commercial re-seller of donated items to third world countries. Their boxes do say that they are a commercial company, but other non-profits say that they also reduce contributions to legitimate charities.

A spokesman for the non-profit ARC of Washington state said that as far as she knows U'SAgain has no connection with nor do they support any charities.

"We sell the clothes we collect, too, to Value Village stores," she said, "and that supports our efforts with disabled people in many different programs that operate here in Whatcom County. U'SAgain doesn't support any charitable programs we know of, and when a box goes in, our contributions go down."

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