Kenneth’s Army missing legally-required financial docs

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

Claire Ansbro-Ingalls, right, listens as Berne Town Board Member Anita Clayton addresses the crowd at Kenneth’s Army’s 8th annual motorcycle run, held this year. The event brought in around $7,000 for the not-for-profit. 

HILLTOWNS — Attempts to independently verify the financial legitimacy of Kenneth’s Army, a Hilltown not-for-profit that advocates for victims of domestic abuse, revealed that the group has not been filing necessary paperwork with the New York State Office of the Attorney General that would provide the state insight into how the group spends its money. 

All New York State not-for-profits are required by law to submit a registration statement and annual financial reports to the attorney general’s charities bureau, but a Freedom of Information Law request from The Enterprise for those reports for Kenneth’s Army could not be fulfilled because they don’t exist, according to the attorney general’s First Deputy Press Secretary Morgan Rubin. 

“It looks like this organization has 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS, meaning that [it] likely should have registered with the office,” Rubin told The Enterprise last week. “It doesn’t look like they have, which is why there were no records to produce the FOIL.”

The organization is named for Kenneth White, who in 2014 was murdered in his Knox home, at age 5, by his cousin. His two sisters and their adoptive mother wrote to the Enterprise editor in June, asking that the group stop using Kenneth’s name and likeness because it traumatizes the girls.

The treasurer for Kenneth’s Army, Claire Ansbro-Ingalls, who is also a founding member, told The Enterprise in June that the group has no intention of changing its name.

The only groups exempt from state requirements for filing reports, according to the law, are educational institutions, those that are collecting donations on behalf of an individual (such as someone who has started a GoFundMe drive), and organizations and societies that are chartered by the state’s Board of Regents and fundraise internally. 

The registration statement is meant to show, among other things, what a charity or not-for-profit intends to do with its money, lest it deceive those it collects that money from. The law states that the attorney general is authorized to bring charitable organizations to court over any failure to comply with state law or the attorney general’s request for documents. 

Ansbro-Ingalls, the public face of Kenneth’s Army, told The Enterprise that the group relied on attorney Paul Hyams to establish it as a not-for-profit in 2016 and that neither she nor the other founding members were aware of any requirement to submit such records. 

Hyams could not be reached for comment. 

Although Ansbro-Ingalls sent The Enterprise information indicating that Kenneth’s Army filed its state taxes, the newspaper was unable to review the group’s financial streams in any detail because Ansbro-Ingalls could not be reached after she had originally expressed a willingness to share bank statements. 

However, she said before then that Kenneth’s Army is planning to hold a public meeting, tentatively scheduled for September, at which they’ll answer any questions people may have — financial or otherwise — about the group in light of recent controversy surrounding their use of Kenneth White’s name and likeness.

Kenneth’s Army was formed shortly after the boy’s murder by a group of local women with no personal connection to the case and did not know Kenneth or his family, with the goal of spreading awareness of domestic abuse and keeping Kenneth’s memory alive. 

To that end, it holds an annual motorcycle rally to raise funds, as well as a vigil in Kenneth’s memory on the anniversary of his death. Both events have attracted the attention and support of public officials such as Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.

The most recent rally was held on June 4 at the Berne Town Park where television personalities spoke, as well as Berne Councilwoman Anita Clayton and Assemblyman Chris Tague.

A Facebook post afterwards from the group said, “profit from Saturday’s Kenneth’s Ride is $7068. Thank You all so much! We will continue to help children.”

 

Financial background

The question of how the Kenneth’s Army uses its finances was raised by Linda Dunn, the adoptive mother of Kenneth’s sisters, and then by Elaine and Tom Person, who have been foster and adoptive parents for decades, in separate letters to the Enterprise editor last month. 

Another letter was written by Lisa Ackerman-Todt, a social worker who had helped Kenneth’s sisters and became a family friend and reported how the group’s use of Kenneth’s name was hurting the girls.

The Persons noted that the group had raised over $7,000 at its most recent motorcycle rally, held just after Dunn made her request of the group regarding its name in her own letter, which, like Person’s, wondered what that money — and money raised in years’ prior — was being spent on.

Ansbro-Ingalls responded through The Enterprise then that Kenneth’s Army had just raised the amount of a scholarship it awards through the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District from $1,000 per year to $1,500, and that it set aside enough money to fund it for five years in case anything happens to the group. 

She also said that the group would be sending $1,000 to the school district in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers in May. 

Kenneth’s Army also pays for a family’s Thanksgiving dinner each year. 

Part of Dunn’s frustration with the group was that it declined to fly Kenneth’s sisters from Florida, where they now live, to attend the June rally, when a memorial bench for Kenneth was unveiled and a sign was posted, designating the road into the park “Kenneth’s Way.” Dunn said a large donation had been made to the group to fly Kenneth’s sisters to the June 4 event.

 Dunn also said that the group has not provided other financial support to the girls.

“When Kenneth’s Army was formed, it was our understanding that part of its intention and ‘mission’ was to help provide ongoing support for Kenny’s sisters, Cheyanne and Christine, who are now living in Florida,” Dunn wrote in June. “There has been no guidance, love, or support from Kenneth’s Army for Kenny’s sisters for several years other than small birthday and Christmas gifts.”

Ansbro-Ingalls pushed back on this claim, saying that the group had no financial obligation to Kenneth’s sisters beyond getting them to safety, but that she had nevertheless paid out of her own pocket to provide certain things for them. Before Ansbro-Ingalls stopped communicating with The Enterprise, she said that records backing this claim up were going to be included with the bank statements. 

“The mission of Kenneth’s Army was justice for Kenneth and safety for his sisters,” Ansbro-Ingalls said in June. “His sisters are safe, so we have no financial obligations to them whatsoever.”

She also said, “There’s no reason to change the name .… If it bothers the girls, according to Mrs. Dunn, then she does not have to go on the Kenneth’s Army page.”

To that, Dunn responded, “I can keep them away from social media at home but any parent with 11- and 12-year-old children knows that it’s impossible outside the home.”

She also said, “Use of the tragedy of Kenny’s death for publicity and fundraising only serves as a constant reminder to the girls of the trauma and tragedy they experienced.”

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