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Hornbeck Foundation tries to get its paperwork in order

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: May 29, 2008 - The Shawn Hornbeck Foundation -- which had been under public scrutiny for its failure to file an annual report with Missouri officials -- has ignored multiple requests over the past two years to supply financial and other information to the St. Louis Better Business Bureau.

"It certainly raises questions in our mind," said Jim Judge, who oversees the BBB's Charity Information Service here.

"While the process is voluntary, the BBB believes that this lack of cooperation may demonstrate a lack of commitment to transparency."

Judge said that since the end of 2005 the bureau has sent six letters to Craig Akers, Shawn Hornbeck's father and president of the foundation, requesting information from the charity. The most recent was a certified letter mailed May 23. Judge said his office also called Akers on April 8 of this year asking him to return the call.

Judge said on Wednesday that the office has received no response to any of the inquiries.

In a phone interview with the Beacon on Thursday, Craig Akers said that neither he nor the foundation in any way meant to sidestep the BBB and he said he intends to begin getting requested information to the bureau immediately.

"We'll address that right away," he said. The foundation began after Shawn's abduction and was in the spotlight again when he was rescued last year.

When told that the BBB had received no response to its letters and phone call, Craig Akers said, "That's not hard to believe; that is something we need to take care of."

He blamed the snafu on a former administrator with the foundation who did not do his job.

Typically, he said, "my wife or someone else sorts through the mail and routes it to whoever it needs to go to." It was the administrator, whom he declined to name, who continuously dropped the ball, he said.

Now, he said, he and his wife are solely responsible for administrative duties involving the foundation.

The foundation is named for Shawn Hornbeck, who was abducted in October 2002 near his Richwoods, Mo. home and held for five years before he was rescued in January 2007. The case generated international publicity.

On its website, the foundation says it is a "nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of the abduction of children and the search and rescue of lost, missing or abducted children."

The foundation most recently came under scrutiny last week when St. Louis media reported that Missouri officials had ordered the charity shut down for failing to file a required annual report with the office of Secretary of State.

The office had actually revoked the group's ability to do business several months earlier, in December 2007, marking the second time in a year that the state had taken action against the foundation for failing to file annual reports.

Craig Akers said Thursday the failure to file that information with the state also was an oversight.

Records on the secretary of state's website show that the charity was "restored to good standing" on Wednesday after finally filing its 2007 annual registration report earlier that day.

That report lists Craig Akers as president of the organization, Chris Diamond as vice president and is signed by Pamela J. Akers, Craig Akers' wife and secretary of the charity.

The Better Business Bureau's charity office here uses information it receives from nonprofit groups to determine whether they meet the bureau's 20 so-called "Standards of Accountability."

Those standards cover how a charity is governed, how it spends its money, how truthful it is and how open it is in disclosing information to the public.

Currently, on its website, the BBB notes that the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation "has not provided current information or has declined to be evaluated in relation to the BBB's charity standards."

Craig Akers said he is familiar with the bureau's standards and, to date, would have difficulty meeting them because it has not had an audited financial report done.

That report "will be available shortly," Craig Akers said. He said the report would go back to the beginning of the foundation five years ago.

Once completed, he said, it would be available to the public.

He said too that the charity is in the process of completing its Form 990 for 2007. The Internal Revenue Service requires that most tax-exempt groups file a 990 if their annual income exceeds $25,000. The only year that has happened, Akers said, was 2007. The 2007 990 should be filed soon, Akers said.

Currently, the charity has only a "$3,000 or $4,000" in cash on hand, he said. He said a part of the foundation money has been spent to buy and equip an old bus for use as a mobile command center in missing child cases.

Akers said getting the information compiled and to the BBB is important.

"We realize that is the way people have to check us out to make sure we are a legitimate charity before they give away their hard-earned dollars."

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