Police union wants to clear up confusion about slain-cop funds

This is a section of the billboard to go up along I-95. Another section bears names of widows or other relatives of 12 deceased cops.
This is a section of the billboard to go up along I-95. Another section bears names of widows or other relatives of 12 deceased cops.
Posted: August 03, 2012

SHOW THEM the money.

Irked by a Daily News story Monday that chronicled two competing charities that fund college scholarships for slain cops' kids, city police-union officials are mounting a campaign to persuade the public to donate exclusively to the fund they support, the Hero Thrill Show Inc.

A billboard will go up on Interstate 95 announcing that the 6-year-old Hero Thrill Show Inc. — not the 58-year-old Hero Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia — paid tuition costs for the kids of 12 cops who have died, been killed or been paralyzed in the line of duty since 1993. The sign bears the names of the 12 officers' widows and other relatives who endorse the Hero Thrill Show Inc.

Further, Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby is calling on investigators — "perhaps a grand jury" — to probe the finances of the original fund, saying its steadily dwindling assets raise questions about "where the money went."

Jack Yeakel, the original fund's director, laughed at any suggestion of impropriety.

"Nobody wants investigators climbing all over everything, but by the same token, they're more than welcome to come look at us," Yeakel said. "What they'll find is that I'm not the fastest typist in the world, and I'm not the best speller. But I can count."

The two funds have a stormy history.

For years, the Hero Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia ran the annual thrill show, in which cops on motorcycles perform. But by 2005, its audience had shrunk so small that fund managers decided to discontinue the show and solicit donations in other ways. Fired up in part by a former director's prickly manner, police widows complained at a City Council hearing that the fund had mismanaged its money and failed its mission by capping tuition payments.

In 2006, lawyer Jimmy Binns established a separate fund and restarted the thrill show, eventually boosting its audience to more than 40,000 last year. The original fund sued Binns' fund in 2008, claiming unfair competition and trademark dilution. That lawsuit ended in a settlement last fall.

Binns' group is putting 17 kids through college. Its finances have steadily climbed since its start; it was worth $1.4 million in 2010, according to the most recent tax records available.

The assets of the original fund, meanwhile, have steadily fallen, from $3.4 million in 2008 to $2.6 million in 2010, according to tax records. Records before 2008 weren't immediately available. The fund covered tuition for 22 students last spring; this fall it expects to pay for 18, Yeakel said, adding that tuition payments are no longer capped.

On Thursday, lawyer David Rohde, that fund's board president, said there's a simple explanation for its falling finances.

"The Hero Scholarship Fund has been around for 58 years, and we're still doing what we've always done, which is pay for the tuition of the children of police officers and firefighters killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty," Rohde said. "The only difference now is that we have no income; we're basically operating from an endowment. That is because Hero Thrill Show Inc. has taken over the Hero Thrill Show, and that was our primary means of funding our efforts."

Contact Dana DiFilippo at 215-854-5934 or difilid@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanaDiFilippo and read her blog, phillyconfidential.com.

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