Oldsmar Civic Club members donate $217,000 to groups in city

OLDSMAR — More than a year after the nonprofit Oldsmar Civic Club dissolved and city officials blasted 10 members for pocketing $240,000 of the organization's leftovers, the group planned to quietly make amends Tuesday.

During a meeting of the Oldsmar City Council, club members were to dole out $217,000 to seven local charities and government agencies — the thing they should have done from the start, according to the group's bylaws.

"That money did not belong to me," said Jean Jorgenson, who never cashed her $24,000 check, hired an attorney and shamed eight other members into forking over their share. "That money should go for the benefit of something in Oldsmar."

The 10th member, Robin Hilliard, moved to New Hampshire a few months before the checks were issued. She received the check in the mail and said she was under the impression the money was hers to keep. She spent it on bills and said she isn't in a position to pay it back.

"I've been out of work for the last eight months," Hilliard said. "If I was to come up with a winning lotto, honey, I would be sending my check right along with everybody else's."

Club members said they do not intend to sue Hilliard to recoup the $24,000.

James and Mary Jane Campoli, who deposited their payouts into a certificate of deposit before returning it, said it would cost more to sue than "we'd probably get out of it.

"We're trying to make this a nice, clean break and be done," said James Campoli, a past president of the group.

Two local tax experts said it may not be that easy.

Darryll Jones, a professor of tax law at Stetson University College of Law, said Hilliard could be hit with a 200 percent excise fine, "despite whatever personal hardships the person is going through."

Even those who returned the money could be hit with penalties, said William Lane Jr., a Tampa attorney who specializes in the areas of trusts and estates, tax-exempt organizations and family business succession planning. "They still committed some breaches of tax law," he said.

Just for initially donating the money to themselves, each member could be assessed a 25 percent tax. There could be a separate penalty levied against members who approved the division of the money.

That amount is equal to 10 percent of the amount provided to each person, said Jones, who is on a leave of absence at Florida A&M University School of Law in Orlando.

Ultimately, the decision lies with the Internal Revenue Service, which does not comment on specific cases, spokeswoman Sue Hales said.

With all but $24,000 of the money accounted for, club members met Oct. 20 to decide which entities would receive the remaining money.

The group's bylaws made their decision easy: Recipients had to be within the Oldsmar city limits.

The biggest recipient was the St. Petersburg College Foundation, which received $120,000 for students who live in Oldsmar and graduated from Countryside and East Lake high schools.

Executive director Paul Hanna said he was not familiar with the origins of the money, and it isn't the foundation's protocol to discuss donors and amounts of contributions. "We're very grateful for the donations we do receive," he said.

The mayor of Oldsmar was equally appreciative. He praised members Tuesday, a departure from last year when he condemned their actions.

"We're glad they're doing the right thing," Mayor Jim Ronecker said. "All of those people are good people. They just had a bad idea."

One of the smallest amounts went to Jorgenson, the woman whose attorney demanded everyone return their cut. She racked up more than $4,000 in legal bills.

"I didn't want to give her anything," James Campoli said.

"And I wanted to give it all," said Mary Jane Campoli.

The seven members who attended the Oct. 20 meeting worked out a compromise: $3,000. Jorgenson said her bills are paid, but the donation will help.

She said she doesn't see anything wrong with her receiving something.

"Because I got an attorney and made them return the money," Jorgenson said. "No, I don't think it hurt 'em a bit to give me the money."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

FAST FACTS

Recipients of the recouped money:

St. Petersburg College Foundation Inc.: $120,000

Oldsmar Care Inc.: $52,000

Friends of Oldsmar Library: $15,000

Historical Society of Oldsmar: $10,000

Oldsmar Fire Department: $15,000

Woman's Club of Oldsmar: $2,000

Jean Jorgenson: $3,000

Total: $217,000*

*With one member having spent her $24,000, there should be $216,000 left. It's unclear how the club came up with the extra $1,000.

Oldsmar Civic Club members donate $217,000 to groups in city 11/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 10:19am]

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