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Beware of Unscrupulous Charities

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 18, 2011

We received an email at the hotel yesterday from a woman named Karen Johnson asking us if we would donate a stay at our hotel to an organization called the Cancer Relief Association,

We were told they were “planning an online auction to raise funds to provide financial assistance to cancer patients around the world.” It went on to say that they provide cancer patients with grants that assist them in paying the expenses of dealing with their disease. We were asked to send information about our donation to either the email address listed or to their post office box in Florida.

Over the years we’ve contributed time at our hotel to different charitable organizations and functions both here in Mexico and in the United States. So when we received this solicitation, we were open to the idea. Besides, who doesn’t want to help people with cancer? Both of Tony’s parents died from cancer, we have a good friend battling the disease right now, and several of our close friends–as well as Cheri’s mom–are cancer survivors.

However as the email we received was so lacking in information we decided to investigate further. In this time of easy internet scams, we figured we should be a little cautious and confirm we were dealing with a legitimate charity. We also figured that no legitimate charity would have an issue with that.

We looked at Cancer Relief Association’s web site–a single web page–and found very little real information about this organization, other than a note directed to property owners about how a stay at their hotel would help provide money to cancer patients, which we found rather strange. It was very vague. The Paypal link for donations on the website was broken. When we googled them, we found virtually no references to this charity.

So we sent a reply email asking if the Cancer Relief Association was associated with any other cancer research organizations and asked Karen if she would provide us with a link to the website where the internet auction was being held.

The reply stated they are affiliated with the organization Center for Cancer Research Funding, Inc. at Instead of a link to their upcoming online auction, we were told we could view the other items they have listed for auction at

Hmmm. When we looked at the link we found nothing but vacation properties listed for sale on ebay by the user name “bidtofightcancer.” When we were originally told they were soliciting donations for an “upcoming online auction,” we were expecting some sort of event, not simply someone taking bids on ebay.

Meanwhile, we emailed the Center for Cancer Research Funding to ask if they were indeed associated with the Cancer Relief Organization and were told by one of their three Directors, Dick Bornman, that yes, the Cancer Relief Association is a program managed by their organization.

So we looked at the Center for Cancer Research Funding website. Unfortunately we encountered similarly vague information as to where and whom the donations actually go and under what circumstances. Internet searches again provided little or no information about this charity.

Sensing a scam, we decided not to donate and sent the following email to Karen:


We have decided not to contribute to your organization. Frankly, we have some questions about its legitimacy. It appears not to be associated with any well-known cancer research entity, appears to deal only on marketing vacation properties on ebay, and the organizations’ websites appear somewhat questionable and provide no real information as to who you are or who receives your donations. We prefer to make our charitable contributions to more established organizations.

We assumed this would be the end of it, or possibly that we might receive another email giving us more information to prove the legitimacy of either organization. Instead, a few hours later we received the following scathing email from Dick Bornman of the Center for Cancer Research Funding. You have to read it carefully to appreciate it. The capitalization and emphasis are all his:

Hello Tony & Cheri Head, Owners,

I can appreciate your response, but quite frankly am disgusted with how you worded it. Your hotel would be one of the lower price class hotels that we solicited so to receive your response is quite interesting. Your hotel is no Ritz and Mexico is not exactly highly sought after right now. In other words your number 22 in Playa del Carmen, there are 21 more established resorts in your town alone. Thank god people do not have your attitude or your resort would not be in business. We are a fully registered fully tax exempt organization, in AMERICA, which is more sought after than Mexico to begin with. So in other words from outer appearances both organizations are not the best not the most highly funded and far from number 1. Next time you reject someone do it appropriately and do not do it rudely and outrageously to someone who travels internationally, because I will make sure to inform others of your generosity and your kind words starting with the patients we assist, ending with the resorts that are in the top ten, Karen does not check on the numbers, or believe me we would not have solicited to you in the first place, furthermore most trips we receive have personal connections to someone in our organization, meaning they own a week, or they have spent money there before, nobody internally desires to go to Playa del Carmen right now, and after your insulting response nobody will ever want to spend money at your hotel. Just my five cents, take it for what its worth, and STOP INSULTING CHARITIES, it comes off EXTREMELY ARROGANT AND DISGUSTING.

Yours Truly

Dick Bornman

We were shocked at the nasty personal tone of this email and the spew of negativity against us, our business, Playa del Carmen and Mexico in general! It amazed us that someone representing a so-called charity would act so unprofessionally. It puzzled us that someone would solicit resorts in Mexico and then make comments about how nobody goes to Mexico and how America is so much better.

Finally, we noted with interest that Mr. Bornman had an opportunity to fill in the gaps for us by saying how the donations to his company were processed, distributed, what percentage of money was received by cancer patients and their families, etc. But he didn’t.

And then it got even stranger.

An hour later, someone named Michael L. Galbraith posted a link to a very old negative TripAdvisor review of our hotel ON OUR HOTEL’S FACEBOOK PAGE. Turns out that Michael L. Galbraith is the President of the Center for Cancer Research Funding, Inc.! We of course promptly removed it, reported him to Facebook and then blocked him.

We were stunned by the idea that the President of a so-called charity supposedly responsible for the distribution of aid to cancer patients “around the world” would take the time to play vindictive games on our Facebook page simply because we refused to donate. In the end, the actions of these two individuals convinced us more than ever that we did not want to be associated with their charity, regardless of what name it used.

After receipt of the threatening email and attempt to damage our business, we did a little more research with a public office in the US and learned that the Center for Cancer Research Funding took in over $90,000 US in 2010. We certainly hope at least some of that money actually went to cancer patients and not to line the pockets of such awful people. The fact that the money is tax exempt makes us cringe even more.

We find it hard to believe that representatives of any legitimate charity would act in such a way. After receiving such nasty treatment, we fear they may be scam artists, and we know they are unprofessional. Either way, we certainly hope that anyone who is approached by either the Cancer Relief Organization or the Center for Cancer Research Funding take a long, hard look at their credentials before donating to or buying anything from them.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

17 Responses to “Beware of Unscrupulous Charities”

  1. sue carlton said

    That is just beyond bizarre. Regardless of what ever non-profit status they have, their conduct screams of scam artists………..

  2. Karon said

    Well, that Dick sure sounds like a dick!! Definately unprofessional!

  3. Julie said

    Wow, obviously not a professional organization with the intent of helping cancer patients. Shame on them! BTW, kudos to you guys for the professionalism you always show when dealing with these type of people.

  4. Ana Rawa said

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing. It takes all kinds of people to make this world go round. This sounds like a total scam to me.

  5. Daniella said

    What I found strange is that they berated travel to Mexico and even said had they done their own research they wouldn’t have contacted the Luna Blue anyway so why would they bother to send such a lengthy email and then to post on Facebook? You were right to follow you instincts. . .

  6. Judy said

    In my opinion, your response to Mr. Bornman was not rude but his response to you definitely was!!!

  7. sue carlton said

    The Kiplinger review site reviews the financial health, accountability and transparency of charity organizations in the US. You can go to for the list. They have never heard of Cancer Relief Association. I would report them as potentially fraudulent.

  8. Michael said

    I can’t believe the audacity of people who are obvious scammers. I’m going to share this on all of our social networks. I’ve seen bad/fraud happen on TA before and you don’t deserve any of this.

  9. Jan said

    If they were a legitimate organization, they would have been very forthcoming with providing you information. Instead, they immediately went on the defensive and started trashing your business. Kudo to you for doing your due diligence. Cheers.

  10. We have never stayed at the Luna Blue but have been there several times and have met Tony and Sherri. We have found that they are very nice and honest people and have done a lot for Playa del Carmen. People listen to what they say.

  11. Lori said

    Having worked for a nonprofit publishing entity in a past life, I can do some digging to find their tax forms, which are available to the public. If they are taking money in, then they should be showing how they are spending it.
    Indeed, nastiness and vitriol are elements very unattractive to running a charity (if it is an actual *charitable* organization).

  12. Ursula said

    I have never stayed at the Luna Blue either, but we have a home in Playa and we follow your blog (especially when there is a hurricane watch). The response from someone who holds the title of a Director of a charitable organization was shocking in its unprofessionalism. The subsequent guerilla tactics are similarly alarming. Its either an outright scam or its run by a group of nincompoops and either way is to be avoided at all costs.

  13. prbst said

    So sorry to read this. People who have been to Playa and Luna Blue know the real truth, it is a great little place in paradise!

  14. Mark Levert said

    As an owner of a small business who has donated many freebies, well, good on you.
    If the charity was legit they would have sent you additional information to clarify your well deserved concerns.
    Anyone reading this can clearly see what this is about and absolutely have no issue with Luna Blue.
    Carry on, dont give this anymore thought.

  15. I’m just reading this thread. Because of our mission I find this disturbing on so many levels. I, too, am very shock at the “representation” of this charity. Has anyone looked this organization up on Charity Navigator?

  16. Tony & Cheri Head, Greetings from Tela bay, Honduras – western Caribbean! We also got, twice, requests for donations from same person, signing both notes; same organization; we have done donations to local, and international organizations, but, for some reason – sixth senses – in this occasion I decided to search the net before committing. Bingo! we were fortunate finding your comments; obvious scamm! Thank you !

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