After five police officers were gunned down in Dallas on July 7, 2016, tens of thousands from around the world reached out to help the widows and children of the slain men.
Money flooded into City Hall. Officials struggled to organize and distribute it, so they turned to the Assist the Officer Foundation, a long established charity run by the Dallas Police Association, to handle the cash and checks.
But in the years since the killings, millions ended up at two other charities — the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation and the Texas Fallen Officer Foundation — run by a charismatic but largely unknown police sergeant named Demetrick Pennie.
Most of that money never made it to fallen officers’ families, a Dallas Morning News investigation has found. Instead the bulk of it went to three telemarketing companies, one of which is owned by Pennie’s friend. Tens of thousands of dollars went straight into Pennie’s pocket.
Grunt Style is an apparel company that raised over $200,000 for Pennie’s organization in 2016 with the sell of a t-shirt dedicated to those Dallas area officers murdered. At the time, Grunt Style promised that the funds would be given directly to families.
Officers’ families received just 22 percent of the total $3.2 million donated to Pennie’s two charities in 2016 and 2017, according to the groups’ most recent IRS filings.
Pennie’s expenditures run counter to best practices established by the Better Business Bureau that recommend charities spend no more than $35 of every $100 from donors on fundraising costs such as telemarketers.
Last year, for every $100 donated to Pennie’s Texas Fallen Officer Foundation, just $5 went to families, while $74 went to telemarketers, $15 to cash reserves and $6 to travel, meals and expenses for Pennie and his team.
The figures for the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation were slightly better. For every $100 donated last year, $10 went to fallen officers’ families, while $48 went to telemarketers, $25 to cash reserves and $17 to travel, salaries and other expenses.
The bureau says at least 65 percent of a nonprofit’s spending should go toward fulfilling its core mission. Last year, the Texas Fallen Officer Foundation and the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation allocated just 6 percent and 13 percent of their spending, respectively, toward helping families.
That’s far out of line with other big-city police charities that share the same mission, a News analysis of IRS filings shows.
Meanwhile, the charity work is benefiting Pennie.
Last year, Pennie was paid $43,300 from funds donated to the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation, IRS records show. That’s in addition to his $89,400 police salary. The foundation also paid $37,900 to its vice president, Sonia Godinez. The charity spent $12,600 on travel, although records do not state who traveled where.