A Rancho Penasquitos family is raising concerns about a local charity called WishWarriors, saying the nonprofit took advantage of their situation as they tried to save their 13-year-old daughter's life.
Within a week of Kasey Harvey’s Rhabdomyosarcoma cancer diagnosis late last year, her parents got a letter from one of Kasey’s schoolmates. In the letter, the girl writes her father is Robert Bjork and he works for WishWarriors. According to the letter, WishWarriors “helps raise money for families of children with cancer.”
The Harveys say instead of receiving any support, they feel their daughter was treated like a marketing tool.
NBC 7 Investigates started digging into WishWarriors and found multiple emails, advertisements and texts showing organizers, particularly CEO and President Brianna King, promising the family financial support for allowing the charity to highlight them.
When the family agreed to let the charity highlight Kasey, they soon saw their daughter’s story on local news segments, on social media and in a magazine article that read, “WishWarriors is supporting Kasey and her family through their journey.”
“When they said they were helping us financially through it, we sort of said to our friends, 'That’s not correct. We haven’t had any money,'” said Susan Harvey, Kasey’s mother.
The Harveys were heavily involved in a WishWarriors-hosted golf tournament at Maderas Gold Club last April. NBC 7 Investigates confirmed the fundraiser was attended by San Diego Chargers players and received thousands of dollars in donations from other participants.
At last check, none of that money has been distributed to any families. WishWarriors said in June it would release information about the money raised. That information has not been provided.
An attorney for the charity wrote in a statement the organization is "new and small" and doesn't have the resources "to handle administrative duties full-time."
Since forming in April 2014, WishWarriors has highlighted several local families with sick children and, to date, none of them have received any money.
“You shouldn’t have to go through that when you’re also trying to save your daughter’s life,” said Rodney Harvey, Kasey’s father.
NBC 7 also learned that 45 percent of all donations is slated to go to what the charity’s website calls “today’s most advanced cancer research.” Specifically named is The Biotelesis Project, where the independent researcher and sole owner is Dr. Robert Bjork - the same man whose daughter sent the Harveys that handwritten letter. Bjork is also one of the charity’s board members and the chair of its advisory board.
“People shouldn’t be making decisions to be giving money to themselves,” said Daniel Borochoff. Borochoff is the president of Charity Watch, a national charity watchdog group.
“You need some checks and balances there,” he said.
WishWarriors says there is no conflict of interest because Bjork will recuse himself from any board votes involving donated money.
A check by NBC 7 Investigates into WishWarriors President and CEO Brianna King uncovered a criminal past.
In San Diego County, King was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty in 2004 to four misdemeanor charges for using fraudulent checks and burglary. She was ordered to pay $2,905 in restitution.
NBC 7 Investigates has learned King did not pay that amount in full.
According to documents from the court payment system, King made one payment of $55 on February 24, 2005; $50 went to the victim (Downey Savings) and $5 went to cover an administration fee.
The payment system documents show King’s court payment account was closed when her probation term with San Diego County was terminated August 6, 2007.
Senior Deputy County Counsel for San Diego, Bill Pettingill, said it’s not uncommon for a person’s probation to be terminated even though they may still owe restitution. If this happens, collecting the money then becomes a civil legal matter, he said.
While King was running the charity, she had two active arrest warrants. In Riverside County, King was charged in 2005 with a misdemeanor for writing bad checks to two stores. King never appeared in court. Two years later, in Orange County, King pleaded guilty to felony charges for burglary and writing bad checks.
After NBC 7 Investigates asked questions about those warrants, law enforcement arrested King late Friday in Lake Arrowhead in connection with the Orange County felony charges. Currently, she is at an Orange County jail and is ineligible for bail.
NBC 7 Investigates has asked both King and Dr. Bjork for on-camera interviews. Neither have made themselves available.
The Harveys say they feel hurt and disgusted about being involved with WishWarriors. They say the organization broke their trust and cost them valuable time with their daughter.
“You cannot do something like that to a family who’s going through cancer. You just can’t,” said Susan.
Borochoff, the president of Charity Watch, gave tips on what people should do before getting involved with a new charity:
1. You need to be able to trust the people running it.
2. Research the organizers online.
3. Ask for their qualifications. They should have past experience.
In an email, Bill Johnston the Director of Public Relations for the Chargers said, “The Chargers organization has no connection to this organization or event whatsoever. The players involved were asked to participate by Dr. (Robert) Bjork and paid to play in the event the same as the other golfers.”