Estranged father, Kimani Johnson, raised close to $ 11,000 through a fake GiveForward fund-raising page. The company said it has returned most of the money, but was unable to reach a “handful” of donors.
A Maryland dad allegedly scammed his friends and family by raising funds for his son’s heart surgery online.
The problem was that his son was perfectly healthy.
Kimani Johnson reportedly collected $ 10,600 through a GiveForward campaign for his 8-year-old son, Kristian Hodges. Visitors to Johnson’s GiveForward profile were greeted by a photo of his smiling son and a solemn request for funds.
By the time Kristian’s mom, Kena Hodges of Washington, D.C., heard about the scam and alerted GiveForward, the estangred dad had already cashed out on the funds.
“He put photos of my minor child on the internet and used them for his own gain,” Hodges told The News. “I was angry. I think anyone would feel the same anger in seeing their child depicted in that way.”
GiveForward claims it has since refunded all of the people who donated online. But the company said that some friends who donated allegedly handed Johnson cash, which he then added to the fund in their name.
GiveForward’s Director of Communications Nate St. Pierre said that the company handed the money back to Johnson, who promised to reimburse his donors. GiveForward conducted follow-up calls with these cash donors. While some people said that they did get their money back, a “handful” of folk reportedly “didn’t respond” to GiveForward’s inquiries.
“Not every single person said yes,” St. Pierre told The News. “But a vast majority did.”
Kristian’s mom, Kena, said that she has spoken to several people who have yet to hear from GiveForward about their donations.
Kena Hodges has full custody of her child, Kristian Hodges. His dad has a criminal record and has refused to pay child support for years.
“My son is not sick, but unfortunately, there are so many people who need help and so many people who want to help,” Kena said. “And they get taken advantage of.”
Kena said she wasn’t surprised that Johnson would sink so low. The man held her captive in an abusive relationship for more than a year. When she finally got out, she was pregnant with no place to go. She spent months at a domestic abuse shelter and has worked hard to start fresh.
She says Johnson owes her more than $ 20,000 in child support. But she’s managed to move on.
“I work really hard to provide a good life for my child,” Kena said. “But now he’s having nightmares and sleeps with the door barricaded.”
Throughout Kristian’s life, Kena said that his dad has only bothered to visit him three times. That’s why she was surprised when Johnson started texting her in March asking about her son’s welfare and wanting to meet up.
She told him the child was fine, but Johnson wouldn’t stop asking to see his son.
In April, when she discovered the scam through a mutual friend, the pieces fell together.
“He kept asking to meet because he wanted recent photos of Kristians so he could use it for his profile,” Kena said. “It’s really sick.”
GiveForward has raised more than $ 70 million for medical expenses. It takes a 7.9% cut from every fund-raiser to keep its business going.
Johnson’s criminal background is readily available through public record searches in Maryland. Kena’s lawyer, Anne McKenna, says a simple Google search would have informed GiveForward that Johnson had a criminal record and had lost custody of his son.
“It wouldn’t cost GiveForward any money to to check online to see that this was a deadbeat dad who went to jail,” McKenna told The News. “GiveForward is a for-profit company. And they’re not making a single effort to protect these donors.”
In court documents, GiveForward claimed they are not responsible for their user’s content under the Communications Decency Act. The company said that it doesn’t “provide, create or select any content for the … fund-raiser” and that it “does not have an obligation, or resources, to research each user.”
But the company does assign coaches to each user, who help guide people through the fund-raising process. And the company takes a 7.9% cut from every fund-raiser to keep their business going.
To date, GiveForward has helped raise more than $ 70 million towards medical expenses.
Spokesperson St. Pierre said that GiveForward has several “layers of protection” to try to detect fraud. The site tries to recognize scam fund-raisers when they are initially created. They check whether the user has interactions with the patient, by posting updates and photos. The profiles are also viewed by the user’s assigned coach. And once the fund-raiser is live, anyone can flag the page or report unusual activity.
St. Pierre calls Johnson’s plot a “crazy aberration” in a system that usually works well to send funds to people in need.
“The only reason this got through is because he lied to his friends and family,” St. Pierre said. “And that’s very unfortunate. We’re honestly really sad that it happened because just one story like this takes away from the integrity of our platform.”