Baraboo Charity for Kids Accused of Selling Donations

By: Phil Levin Email
By: Phil Levin Email

A local charity for kids is accused of selling donated computers for profit.

Last week the Wisconsin Department of Justice filed a complaint against Baraboo-based Computers for Kids. The charity says it accepts donations, fixes them up, and gives them to kids in need. The state says donated parts are showing up on Craisglist and Ebay and a founder may be pocketing the profits.

The supposed charity's business is also complicated by a dual-purpose storefront. Customers come to buy software and used computers in the same building donations are collected.

NBC 15 was told one of the founders, Robert Szweda, was out of town Thursday on a trip to buy more computers. Multiple calls and emails were not returned. Sweda was convicted of misdemeanor theft in 1992, and has lost numerous civil suits involving banks and others since.

In their complaint, the state alleges Szweda opened a bank account for the charity, but "transferred almost all of that money into his personal checking account, held at the same bank, the next day." They say Computers for Kids is also not registered as a charity with the state or the IRS.

"If you talk about veterans, children, diseases, if you're going to pull at the heartstrings you have to follow through with what your promises are," said Kimberly Hazen, Regional Director at the Better Business Bureau in Madison. The group rates charities in an annual Wise Giving guide based on their administration, finances, and how much of their funds end up helping a cause.

Hazen warns Computers for Kids is just one of many questionable charities. The BBB warns against donating to groups that spend less than 65 percent of donations on their mission, but Hazen says especially this time of year professional fundraisers are often paid 90 percent of what they collect making calls.

The state says Computers for Kids has collected more than 300 computers from two schools and another charity, as well as cash and profits from recycling what they cannot fix. Staff allegedly also distributed thousands of application forms to local schools soliciting families to receive donations. The state could not find records showing donations were distributed.

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