Officials: Scam Calls in Montgomery County Used Volunteer Fire Companies as Cover

    Scam phone calls asking Montgomery County residents to donate to volunteer firefighters had an even more deceptive goal, according to county officials.

    Callers from the “Volunteer Firefighters Association” were actually raising money for a political action committee called Heroes United, which collected more than $4.6 million nationwide, including $1.7 million this election cycle.

    According to the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection, the PAC and a telemarketing network contacted county residents through three mailers and used caller ID spoofing to make residents believe donations would go to local volunteer firehouses.

    The county has entered into a settlement agreement with the PAC, which will allow residents to receive refunds, according to a Monday news release.

    Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the PAC will stop soliciting in Montgomery County and will write to every donor in the county since 2017 to offer a full refund.

    The agreement was signed by Matthew Greenlee and Zachary Bass on behalf of Heroes United PAC.

    The county has also has written to the Federal Elections Commission requesting that it investigate the operation of the Heroes United PAC and several other PACs registered by Bass that are doing business as “Association of Police and First Responders,” “United Police Officers Association,” “American Coalition for Injured Veterans,” “Breast Cancer Health Council” and “United Police Officers Association.”

    Money raised by the Heroes United PAC was used mostly to pay companies to solicit more funding, according to the Office of Consumer Protection’s review of FEC filings. About 90 percent of donations were used for telemarketing and solicitation, while less than 10 percent was used for political action.

    In the 2018 election cycle, the PAC made $57,100 in independent expenditures on behalf of seven candidates ― six Democrats and one Republican ― in six states, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

    Montgomery County is not the first government to pursue action against the PAC.

    In 2018, the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office also entered into an agreement with Heroes United for violations of North Dakota’s “Robo-Caller” law.

    “These deceptive business practices are a despicable way to exploit our natural desire to financially support those who risk their lives to protect all of us,” Eric Friedman, the director of Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “This and other such businesses operate as political action committees in name only and engage in First Responder Fraud.”

    Marcine D. Goodloe, president of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Rescue Association, said there are 19 volunteer fire companies in the county and “the valor and reputation of our local volunteer firefighters should not be used by unscrupulous merchants to defraud consumers.”

    Residents seeking more information can contact the County Office of Consumer Protection via email at [email protected] or by phone at 240-777-3636.

    [email protected]

    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.