Wrestlers, Autism Charity Want Answers After Donated Funds Seem to Disappear - NBC Connecticut

Wrestlers, Autism Charity Want Answers After Donated Funds Seem to Disappear

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    NEWSLETTERS

    (Published Wednesday, May 24, 2017)

    Money from a professional wrestling event in April was supposed to benefit a charity that helps people who have autism, but the charity has yet to receive any money. Now the wrestlers and the charity want answers and the person who organized the event said his costs quickly added up and he has nothing to donate. 

    Mario Mancini, of Paradise Alley Pro Wrestling, said plans for the event began when James Raymond, of New Haven, reached out to him in January. 

    Raymond told Mancini his daughter is autistic and he wanted to host an event for Wallingford-based Autism Services and Resources Connecticut, according to Mancini. 

    “This is our hook. He brought her here,” Mancini said about meeting Raymond’s daughter. “We all fell in love with her -- all carrying her around. We brought her into the ring, we’re all holding her and playing with her.” 

    Paradise Alley Pro Wrestling agreed to bring their wrestlers on board and 600 seats were sold for “Wrestling for Autism,” which was held in East Haven on April 22. Some of the professional wrestlers who stepped into the ring donated their pay for the night. 

    Raymond promised he’d donate the proceeds from the event’s ticket sales, according to Mancini, who estimates them to be at least $5,000. 

    Paradise Alley Pro Wrestling was supposed to collect a $1,800 fee after the show to cover the costs of the ring, concession equipment and chairs. 

    “I said, ‘James, it’s time to settle up’ and he said, ‘I’m going to give you a check.’ And I’m like, ‘Is the check good?” And he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, it’ll be fine,’” Mancini said. “I actually put it through the ATM that night at midnight of the show, then Tuesday the funds were released and I paid some bills.” 

    A few days later, the check bounced, Mancini said, and he could not reach Raymond to ask it about it. 

    So Mancini went to police to file a complaint. 

    “Shame on you. You took advantage of a lot of good-hearted people that wanted to help you, help kids with autism,” Mancini said. 

    Lois Rosenwald, the executive director of Autism Services and Resources Connecticut, said she’ll file a complaint with police against Raymond as well. 

    She said Raymond had emailed the non-profit, offering the wrestling fundraiser. He said he wanted to use their name and promote the event and asked if Autism Services and Resources Connecticut could get the information out to families and people in their database, Rosenwald said. 

    “When someone wants to do a fundraiser for us, it’s a big deal and we were thrilled,” she said. “Just why, why would you have the need to do something like this? Isn’t there a better way.” 

    Sarge Ralph Murray, another partner at Paradise Alley Pro Wrestling, said he was surprised at what happened as well. 

    “My real job is a correction officer and I thought I’d seen it all and he never gave me inkling that he was hustling us,” Murray said. 

    The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters stopped by Raymond’s home a few times to speak with him about the allegations and he initially declined to speak about them, but sent a statement to the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters, saying he praises the autism community and wanted to help raise awareness. 

    There is no money left to donate, he said, and blamed the high cost of putting on the event.

    “I realized during the process I did not set a proper budget in place to help me control the expenses as the event was shaping up. I thought with getting bigger name wrestlers it would help me raise more awareness and help me possibly make more net proceeds. I was not taking in to consideration the higher cost a bigger name wrestler would be or where I would be having to fly them in from and hotel costs for these wrestlers,” the statement says.

    See the full statement at the bottom of the article.

    Raymond added that there were also costs associated with the online ticket site, promotional materials and food for concessions.

    “All these costs added up fast. I was trying to put together a great event for a great cause. With all the costs of the event though we ended up having no net proceeds to donate,” Raymond said.

    East Haven police said there are specific actions that Mancini and Rosenwald would have to take, such as sending a certified letter demanding the monies owed, before police can fully investigate.

    Mancini said Paradise Alley Pro Wrestling will hold another wrestling match on June 25 and all proceeds will go to Autism Services and Resources Connecticut. He said they’ve also been collecting thousands more dollars from around town to add to whatever they make next month.

    The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters also reached out to the Department Of Consumer Protection and Lora Rae Anderson, the director of communications, offered the following tips on ways to protect yourself while trying to raise money for charity.

    If you are working with a charity to raise money, or if you are a charity partnering with another individual or organization to raise money:

    • Make sure your agreement with one another is in writing
    • If you are not a charity, but are using their logo to advertise for an event, you must have the charity’s permission
    • If you have questions, contact the Department of Consumer Protection by emailing dcp.charities@ct.gov

    For consumers donating to charity:

    • You can verify that a charity or paid solicitor is registered appropriately by visiting www.elicense.ct.gov
    • Research a charity’s mission, and ask questions before you give so you know where your money is going
    • If you get a solicitation, never give in to pressure tactics or deals that sound too good to be true. It could be a scam.
    • If you need to a file a complaint, email the Department of Consumer Protection at dcp.frauds@ct.gov.

    Following is the full statement from James Raymond:

    “On April 22nd 2017 I threw an event called Wrestling for Autism in East Haven, CT. This event I had spent 5 months preparing for. I wanted to help raise awareness and acceptance for autism and donate any net proceeds to a charity to help out in anyway possible. I have a daughter who is autistic and we had a lot of help and support from the autism community. So this was one way for me to try and give back to a community who has helped my daughter grow with continued support. With out this community I do not know where we would be right now with my daughter. So this was a great opportunity for me to try and do something to give back.

    “I realized during the process I did not set a proper budget in place to help me control the expenses as the event was shaping up. I thought with getting bigger name wrestlers it would help me raise more awareness and help me possibly make more net proceeds. I was not taking in to consideration the higher cost a bigger name wrestler would be or where I would be having to fly them in from and hotel costs for these wrestlers. Along with all the costs of the wrestlers I still had other costs that would come into play. those costs would be the cost of the e-commerce site to sell the tickets, promotional materials, food for the concession stand, event costs for promotional events leading up to the initial event, t-shirts for the event, graphic design for all the event posters and online promotions of the event. All these cost added up fast. I was trying to put together a great event for a great cause. With all the costs of the event though we ended up having no net proceeds to donate.”