After criminal charges, Fallen Officers charity removes long-dead person from board as it vies for state approval
Even as she faces two felony charges related to her fundraising activities, Rosemary Zore is trying to convince state officials that her charity deserves to be registered as a tax-exempt organization in Florida.
One move Zore is making to help her case is to replace a long-dead board member of her Robert L. Zore Foundation, which raises money in honor of police officers killed in the line of duty and is also known as Fallen Officers.
In order to meet Florida law requiring charities to have three board members, the foundation listed Zore’s father, Robert L. Zore, as a director, incorporation records show. The problem: Robert L. Zore died in the line of duty in 1983, some 35 years before the organization that bears his name was ever formed.
The head of one non-profit watchdog group said she finds it difficult to believe such an obviously erroneous appointment could have been an innocent oversight.
“This is wrong on so many levels,” said Laurie Styron, executive director of CharityWatch. “A deceased person is obviously not able to perform these governance functions, and reporting otherwise to the IRS and to the public is incredibly misleading.”
Zore faces charges of embezzling $35,000 from Fallen Officers as well as raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charity while it was unregistered with the state. To obtain registration and potentially keep the embattled group going, she needs approval from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the same agency that unearthed her alleged crimes.
Zore’s husband, Michael Randall, was also charged with one felony count of failing to register as a professional solicitor after he allegedly took a cut of the proceeds from donations he raised. In recent documents filed with the state, Zore listed new board members to replace her husband as well as her deceased father.
Despite its myriad troubles, Fallen Officers has been embraced by conservative politicians not only in Collier County but across Florida, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made a promotional video for the group and attended some of its events.
Zore didn’t return phone messages from FLCGA News and Randall declined comment. Styron, the nonprofit watchdog, said it will be hard to trust Fallen Officers is really on the right track as long as Zore is in charge.
“People want to see the money going to the cause,” she said. “It's difficult to have confidence that this will happen in light of these allegations.”
Fallen Officers raises red flags
In April, FLCGA News and WGCU Public Radio reported that Fallen Officers had failed to register with the state as a charitable organization and hadn’t filed tax returns for 2019 and 2020, a federal requirement to qualify for tax exempt status. Since her arrest, Zore has submitted copies of those tax returns, both of which were submitted years late to the Internal Revenue Service.
Records show that Zore and her husband raked in tens of thousands of dollars for the charity by holding flag football tournaments and concerts at Sugden Park in Naples. Fallen Officers also held an annual gala and sold police-themed merchandise on its now-dark website.
In previous interviews, Zore and Randall maintained that they had received IRS extensions to file the foundation’s tax returns, and that the delays in their reporting requirements were due to their inexperience running a non-profit. On May 6, the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement launched a criminal probe after receiving a complaint about Fallen Officers and following the joint report by FCGA and WGCU.
State investigators soon discovered alleged cash payments that were inconsistent with the foundation’s “mission and purpose,” including $34,938 transferred from the charity’s bank account to Zore’s personal bank account between 2019 and 2020. A month later, Randall and Zore were arrested. If convicted, they could face up to five and 15 years in prison, respectively.
“A charity isn't a cookie jar for its officers and directors to raid,” said Stryon. “The people running charities are not owners, they are stewards. That's the job. Charities are not vehicles for personal benefit.”
Despite their apparent failure to follow state and federal rules, the husband-and-wife team was able to cozy up to Republican elected officials in Collier County and in the governor’s mansion, with GOP politicians and right-wing celebrities routinely speaking at Fallen Officers’ events to bolster their “back the blue” bona fides.
On May 7, more than two weeks after FLCGA News and WGCU published its investigation, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez joined Collier County Commissioner Rick LoCastro onstage at one of the foundation’s concerts in Sugden Park.
“I’m so privileged to stand here with the folks from the Fallen Officers foundation,” Nunez said. “Because they have a mission…to unite everyone to respect our law enforcement officers. Gov. DeSantis and I stand proudly in support of that mission.”
Zore seeks Agriculture’s certification
On July 19, Zore submitted a long-belated application to register Fallen Officers as a charitable organization, according to documents available on the agricultural department’s charity database.
The application shows Zore remains the foundation’s president, but is now joined by three new board members: Vice-President Timothy Mosier, Treasurer John Meo Jr., and Secretary Lois Bolin.
Mosier, an Everglades City resident running for a County Collier County School Board seat, and Meo, wealth manager from Naples, did not respond to requests for comment. Bolin, a Naples real estate agent, declined comment.
Zore’s deceased father and her husband are no longer on the board, according to the application. However, the foundation’s incorporation records still show Robert L Zore and Randall as directors as of March 28.
Attached to the application were the belated 2019 and 2020 tax returns, a copy of a request for the IRS to grant an extension for the foundation’s 2021 tax return. Also included was a copy of the minutes of a July 14 board meeting stating that Randall had submitted a resignation letter, that the Fallen Officers had approved a $1,500 check to help an unnamed Korean War veteran pay for home repairs, and a July paycheck for Zore. The minutes do not state how much she was paid.
According to the foundation’s 2020 tax return, Fallen Officers generated $180,544 in revenue from fundraising, contributions, gifts and grants. Of that amount, the foundation handed out $19,260 in grants and other assistance, including 28 scholarships totalling $15,600.
The rest of the money went toward expenses, including Zore’s $61,308 salary, $15,000 in fundraising services, $5,619 in advertising and promotional services and $2,463 for travel. Fallen Officers ended 2020 in the red with a negative $11,599 in revenue, the tax return shows.
There are no laws requiring charities to spend a minimum percentage of their budgets on charitable activities, said Styron. However, that doesn’t give people running charities a free pass to spend donations however they please, she added.
“If donors were told that what they donated would be spent on some very specific purpose and that didn't happen, that's a problem,” Stryon said. “If donors were told that the organization is volunteer-run but the financial reporting shows that someone was taking a salary, that's a problem. It's about honesty and transparency.”
Furthermore, it’s not in the public’s best interest for someone who is the subject of pending felony charges directly related to their conduct as an officer of a charity, to continue to function as the primary steward over that nonprofit's assets, Stryon said: “Donors to this charity, as well as taxpayers, have an interest in seeing a qualified person appointed to oversee this organization's governance and financial activities.”
This story was produced by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a nonprofit organization that facilitates local investigative reporting across the state.