Insiders: charity's claims helping poor 'absurdly inflated'

- A longtime charity that gives pet food to the needy faced questions about how much it really helps the community, and why it's failed to file a required tax return for the last three years.

The group is called Daffy's Pet Soup Kitchen in Lawrenceville. For more than 20 years, the charity's founder Tom Wargo gathered food and supplies donated by Petco, one of the largest pet supply chains in the country.

The former construction worker said he wanted to offer disadvantaged pet owners a way to get free food for their dogs and cats, and help other charities with donated pet supplies.

"People get to keep their animals because of the food we're giving them and the way we're helping them." Wargo explained.

But three people -- including two who did work for Daffy's -- filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service accusing Wargo of pulling a fast one on the public.

“It's hard to believe what went to who and who was actually helped," said Briana Botsford, who worked at Daffy's for more than a year as the social media and marketing coordinator.

Walk into the Daffy's store in downtown Lawrenceville and you will find virtually any kind of pet food, pet medicine or pet supply for sale. Joint medicine for dogs. Aquarium gravel. Pellet litter for hamsters. A lot of the products come from Petco. Botsford told the IRS that Wargo would put the expensive products on the shelf for sale, and only give away the cheaper or past sell-by dated food to the needy on Saturday mornings: a couple scoops of dry food shoveled into some plastic bags.

Botsford said she saw often found food rotting or had to be thrown away.

“You would come across pallets of food that was just ruined because it had been sitting there for so long," she remembered. "And that's just a shame because that's pallets of food that could have fed 180 dogs or more.”

Wargo admitted he had to throw out some food, but not a lot.

"We try to get people to come in," he explained. "Sometimes we just can't get them all to get rid of the food."

Wargo said he fired Briana. She said she quit in disgust with what she saw the charity doing... or not doing.

“You're getting these things for free," she argued. "But you're hoarding it to sell instead of actually giving the best that you can to these people in need.”

She took pictures of warehouses packed with food. We saw pallets of food stored in a second location.

"Are you allowed to sell stuff that Petco gives you?" we asked.

"Yeah. Yeah," Wargo assured us.

Not true.

After we checked with the company, Petco stores in metro Atlanta received a memo ordering them to stop donating anything but food to Wargo, and reminding them that food should never be resold.
    
Turns out Wargo signed documents when he picked up the donations promising not to sell any of the products. He told us later that despite the no-resale document he signed, he was assured by local Petco managers he could resell. He's not anymore.

"I can guarantee you there's nothing wrong going on here," Wargo said about the accusations from former workers. "It's just ignorance on my end."

He says that includes the charity's failure to file income tax returns.

"I've had so many priorities and yeah, that should have been one of them," he admitted.

Daffy's tax returns would help show the public how much food the charity really gives away. Or how much Wargo pays himself. He says a new accountant will file for an extension before the May 15 deadline.

Despite selling donated Petco products for years, Daffy's seemed to constantly have money issues. That's meant constant online fundraisers, the latest one urgently asking for money so they wouldn't be evicted. But there's one fact in that plea that's hard to understand.

According to their most recent GoFundMe page, the charity claimed it donated 80,000 pounds of supplies every month to help less fortunate pet owners. Eighty-thousand pounds every month? That's 40 tons, or more than one ton of product every day of the year.

Wargo promised to show us records backing up his claim. He never did. He later explained that number was from when the charity first started.
    
Critics are unconvinced.

“If he were giving away 40 tons of food, then you would have to work to find somebody who hadn't received some," charged Jen Wagner of Gwinnett Animal Rescue. "There would be no need in the communities because the food would already be there.”

She should know. Her non-profit spends much of its time helping needy families with spay-neuter and other pet challenges.

We pointed out to her that Wargo has helped some people.

"Sure," she agreed. "He may very well have. But with the volume of food that he receives, it should be a lot more.”

The two former workers, including Briana Botsford, have now filed official complaints with the IRS, accusing Wargo of “using donated items for collecting personal income which is not fully returning to the charity.”

And “most of the time the food and prescription products expire and become infested with insects and rodents.” One calls his donation claims “absurdly inflated.”

In his GoFundMe campaign to avoid eviction, Wargo asked for $10,000. People wound up donating $12,000.

Generosity that bothered Wagner.

“It hurts my heart that people continue to trust him and give him money on the pretext that he's helping the community when he's not.”

 

 

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