Share Our Shoes facing new allegations

February 28, 2012 6:04:16 PM PST
In November, ABC11 broke the story of how Share Our Shoes was accused of sometimes selling donations instead of sending them to people in need.

The charity, founded in 2009 by Jennifer Pierce, began with a simple premise: Match donated shoes with people in need who can’t afford to buy them. It has drop boxes around the Triangle and claims it’s collected more than a half million pairs of shoes to date. The group quickly earned a high profile in North Carolina and was featured on news shows - including ABC11.

But last year, questions were raised about the charity's bookkeeping. An ABC11 investigation revealed Share Our Shoes was actually selling a large amount of its donations instead of distributing. Our investigation led to a probe by state officials who are reviewing more than $95,000 worth of expenses that may have not furthered the group's charitable purpose. The Secretary of State's office filed a notice of intent to revoke Share Our Shoes' charitable solicitation license. That means - if it goes through - the charity could no longer operate as a non-profit.

A further review of new documents by the I-Team has uncovered what some of those expenses were. One was a $2,000 tab at a Florida casino. In an interview with ABC11, Share Our Shoes founder Jennifer Pierce explained she repaid the money.

"When I spent that money at the casino, I had a checking account, but I didn't have my debit card," she said.

Pierce said she used the charity's card - just like she did spending more than $2,500 on fast food, hair, nails, teeth whitening, and more.

Pierce told us she reimbursed the charity for all of the payments and she has nothing to hide.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity to be transparent, to provide this information, and I know it's a lot, and I know it may look crazy, but that's why I stayed," she said.

But Pierce hasn't always been so transparent. In notes provided to the Secretary of State's office from her own board of directors meeting back in October, the charity's former attorney informs new members that Pierce had recently lost her "director" title because she took $7,000 from a buyer for personal use.

When we asked her about that last year, Pierce called the money "a tip" for doing a good job, but then told us it was a loan. She quickly claimed she'd repaid it. She even showed us copies of three checks. But now, she admits she never sent them.

Instead, she now claims $6,000 of that money was for her selling her personal clothing to the buyer.

"I asked if I could sell clothing to be able to raise money for myself because I didn't have enough. I didn't have insurance. I didn't have enough money to support ourselves," said Pierce.

Pierce even provided us with invoices that claim she made $6,000 selling 11,000 pounds of clothes she got from her own closet, from her family, and from storage units the family buys, but not clothes donated to the charity.

Also in the board of directors' notes that are part of the Secretary of State's investigation is an allegation from the charity's former attorney that Pierce sometimes dug receipts out of gas station trashcans and submitted them for reimbursement as her own.

Pierce told us she sometimes submitted other people's receipts because she lost her own.

"I didn't take it from the garbage can, but when you go up to the pump, sometimes there is a receipt already sitting there, and I willfully said I forgot my receipt, but I have another receipt that is close to the receipt that I lost," said Pierce.

Pierce also said the notes the Secretary of State's office has are not the approved minutes of the board meeting in question.

And there's more. Documents turned into the state appear to show a local company donated tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies for earthquake, tsunami, and flood victims. While Pierce showed us evidence many of the donations were distributed, board notes in the investigation also include allegations Pierce's brother sold some of the donations.

"I thought it was a good idea, a fundraising opportunity, something to keep him busy. He's in recovery, and I felt like he needed something to do to stay busy," Pierce explained. "I thought it was a fine idea if he did take leftover product and raise funds for Share Our Shoes."

Pierce gave us documents that show her brother sold the donated medical supplies at flea markets for pennies on the dollar.

"Any contributions that are donated to Share Our Shoes can be sold for charitable purposes to raise funds for the charitable purposes. There is nothing illegal about that," said Pierce.

But both Pierce and her brother admit he kept some of the profits too. They said it was payback for all the times he volunteered at the charity.

Pierce also admitted that she, herself, returned some of the donated drugs, like Prilosec, to local Walmarts - even though they weren't bought there - because of the store's liberal return policy. She said all the money from the returned drugs was used to buy items for Share Our Shoes.

But with all the new allegations and admissions, we wondered if there may be worse consequences than the charity being shut down.

"Are you worried at all that you could face criminal charges?" we asked.

"I haven't done anything criminal whatsoever. That's why I'm still here," said Pierce.

Pierce is about the only one still at Share Our Shoes. When we were out there for her interview, the warehouse was almost empty and the water had been shut off.

There's only one board member for the charity right now, and she told us she's not been involved because she doesn't agree with what Pierce has done. She told us she has tried to fire Pierce several times, but Pierce won't leave.

She said she is waiting to see how the state rules in its investigation, and whether Share Our Shoes is allowed to keep its non-profit license.

As for Pierce, she maintains she's done nothing wrong, and says all her former board of directors, were fully aware of what she was doing - and approved it all.

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