Paid Volunteers and Donations That Do Not Reach Their Destination

Paid Volunteers and Donations That Do Not Reach Their Destination
16 August 2020 | 11:15

In recent months, ZdG has been monitoring several people who claim to be members of the My Moldova Association, led by activist Fiodor Ghelici. Volunteers work in crowded areas and streets ofChișinău, as well as other cities. They stop passers-by and encourage them to donate as much as they can for 21 families who have children with different degrees of disability, suffering from heart failure, scoliosis, leukemia. The families are registered at the Ciocana district, midtown Chișinău.

However, we found out that, for years, the families, for whom the volunteers raise money, have not received any help from the Association led by Ghelici. Some of those people have already passed away.

Ghelici claims that the volunteers of the association collect money for people in need. However, the money does not necessarily reach the families whose names are invoked by volunteers on the streets. Nevertheless, ZdG found that part of the money goes to the volunteers who collect it and the rest goes to Ghelici, the leader of the Association.

Ghelici, who previously tried to do politics and who appears in several criminal cases or financial disputes, offered us a series of documents to prove that he aided several socially vulnerable families in Moldova between 2013 and 2020. However, he avoided telling us how much money the volunteers, whose activity he manages, collect daily.

On March 12, 2020, a young woman, claiming she is a volunteer of  My Moldova Association, approached us on Ștefan cel Mare Boulevard, the main street downtown Chișinău. She is holding a folder in her hands. The folder contains several documents with personal data of some families.

Volunteers from My Moldova Association Collecting Donations

The volunteers urged us to donate money for 21 socially vulnerable families.   

“There are 20 volunteers in our Association. We collect donations for 21 families with children from two to six years old, who are registered at the Ciocana district, midtown Chișinău, and have addressed the Association for help. Children suffer from leukemia, heart failure, and scoliosis. We kindly ask you to donate as much as you are able to help them if you can. 

We provide people with receipts and offer a document to sign, and we thank the people who help us. It is a non-governmental organization. The children need surgery abroad, and we are trying to raise the necessary sums. Three families have already left for Germany for their children to undergo surgery. We are trying to help the rest, too. We kindly ask you to join the cause.”

The volunteers use this message to urge people to donate. Other passers-by are lured by the same message. We asked the volunteer the contact details of the 21 families mentioned in the message, but the volunteers told us that we should contact the organization’s chairperson.

On March 13, two other volunteers of the Association stopped the people and urged them to donate money opposite the headquarters of the General Prosecutor’s Office, downtown Chișinău. A few blocks away, two other volunteers, equipped with a guitar, microphone, speaker, donation box, and a banner with the name of the My Moldova Association, performed old Russian songs and called people to donate money.

For many years, volunteers of the association have been collecting donations on the streets of Chișinău, as well as in other large cities.

The volunteers disappeared from the streets with the first cases of coronavirus in Moldova and the onset of the State of Emergency in Public Health but appeared shortly after the restrictions were relaxed.

Volunteers Are Returning on the Streets After the Restriction Measures Have Been Relaxed

On June 11, ZdG met Inga Bogdan, a volunteer at the My Moldova Association. She was staying next to a supermarket from the Botanica district, midtown Chișinău. Like her colleagues, Inga encouraged people to donate for the same 21 sick children who are registered at Ciocana district. A few days later, we saw two other volunteers on Decebal Street, midtown Chișinău, also raising money. Later on, the young women moved to the city center.

On July 21, volunteer Aurica Golub persuaded us to donate for children with heart failure, scoliosis, and leukemia. The volunteer also told us that she was raising money for 21 sick children. Later, we found more volunteers in some locations in Chișinău. They confirmed that they were raising money for the same 21 children with disabilities. People did not hesitate to participate in charities invoked by volunteers. Those who donated money had the opportunity to sign a document, provided by volunteers. In the document, the people who donated money were mentioning their name, surname, and the amount of money they donated.

During the discussions with the volunteers of My Moldova Association, we managed to collect more data about the families mentioned as recipients of the charity initiated by the Association and whose sad stories can be found in the volunteers’ folders. 

These families claim that they have not received any money from volunteers for a long time or that they received from the Association insignificant sums of several tens or hundreds of euros (hundred or several thousand lei) over the years.

Families that (Did Not) Received Help

In 2013, the house of the Marulea family from Criuleni district caught fire after their TV exploded. Aurelia Marulea was at work. Her two children remained in the care of their grandparents. The elder daughter was three years old and was out with her grandmother. The younger daughter was under two years old. She was sleeping in the house. 

The grandparents threw themselves into the flames to save the child. Meanwhile, Aurelia returned home from work.

“My mother was all burned out. She died soon. My father and my little girl were in a coma,” says the woman, terrified. 

The girl recovered, but the fire left her with numerous burns on her body, including her hands and face. Since then, she has a permanent disability. 

In 2017, Aurelia Marulea remained homless and with two children to raise on her own. She wrote to My Moldova Association, requesting financial help. In the application, the woman alleged that she had to live in rent and that it was difficult for her to provide for her two children, one of whom had a permanent disability. 

The woman agreed then to have her daughter’s photograph displayed in public in order to get help. Aurelia states that, for three years, she received only a few times amounts ranging between 20 and 50 euros (400 and 1,200 lei) while the bank account, whose details the volunteers give to passers-by, is blocked.

According to her, the last time she received money from My Moldova Association was a year ago. 

“He gave us money about five times, around 20 euros (400 lei), then 35 euros (700 lei), then around 50 euros (1,000 lei). He gave me as little as possible. Every time, he would give me a piece of paper and I would sign for the money I received. The last time I visited him was a year ago and I got around 25 euros (500 lei) as spending money on my little girl. 

Then he said to me “Ma’am, we will not be able to raise money for the child with disabilities, because you are young and you have to go to work.” He told me to provide for my children on my own, to earn money for my little girl’s surgery. However, he promised prosthesis for the fingers. He said he would do it, he would see to it, he would send us to Russia. And since then, for a year, no one has called, no one has visited us,” says Aurelia.

The woman is indignant, mentioning that several friends reported that they saw different people collecting money for her daughter. Now she regrets that she agreed to complete the documents.

Cristina Orzu, whose family details are in the volunteers’ folders, lives in Chișinău. After her husband’s death, she brings up two children on her own, a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. Both children are healthy. 

According to the woman, in 2017, after the death of her husband, she wrote an appeal to My Moldova, and for three years she would have received only 25 euros (500 lei).

“I was told that the information will reach legal entities, that whoever wants to help me will contact me directly because I left my data, phone number, everything,” the woman told us. 

“They told me that I will see that someone helps when the money arrives on the card. I submitted the application and in November or December of 2017, he called me, and I received 25 euros (500 lei). I signed for it and that was all. There were a few more phone calls, inquiring how I was doing. They knew my situation very well. The bank account has been closed, I think, for a year. I already forgot about it,” says Cristina Orzu.

Currently, people who see her personal information in the street or police officers often call the young woman and ask her questions. 

“I’m ashamed, I tell you honestly.  A year and a half ago, a police officer from Ungheni, the central part of Moldova, called me. He informed me that a lady was collecting money. Last summer, a police officer from the Central Market in Chișinău called me. 

The worst thing is that they invoke that my children are sick and this infuriates me the most. It’s true, I allowed to use our personal data, but they shouldn’t distort the information. People who simply wanted to help called me and I told them that my children are healthy, thank God. They go to kindergarten and I strive to keep them well,” the woman explains.

“Someone reaps benefits from my difficult situation. I gave my agreement somewhere on a sheet of paper and ended up like this. I do not want anyone walking down the street with my personal data anymore. It already bothers me. I try to get a job and it bothers me because that could influence my reputation somewhere. They use my personal data invalidly. It’s not fair,” says Cristina dissatisfied.

Olesa Robuleț is another name that appears in the papers held by the volunteers of My Moldova Association. The woman states that she has no sick children. In her family, the father has a degree of disability and suffers from cancer. Olesea states that she submitted an application to the Association, requesting financial assistance for her 53-year-old brother, who, meanwhile, died, and for her father, diagnosed with cancer. She submitted the application in the summer of 2019 at her mother’s request. Olesea says she does not know what happened next because she received nothing. 

The woman says that a man who spoke Russian received the application. However, he allegedly told her that there is little hope. Since then, the woman claims that her family has not received any help from that association.

“If I’m not mistaken, I received a phone call after the New Year or in spring, and he told me to check the account, maybe there’s some money. My mom checked it and there was nothing. That’s all,” says the woman.

“Now, I have understood that they deceive people. They make money on someone’s account. I would like to have my name deleted from the list because it’s useless and my brother is already dead, you know. I didn’t even know, nor did I expect that more money would be collected and someone would do tricks using our name,” says Olesea indignantly.

Another woman whose name is in the volunteers’ folders reports that she submitted an application to My Moldova Association in 2018. Since then, she has not received any help. She agreed to speak, asking us not to make her identity public, as she was worried about her and her child’s safety.

The woman’s child was born with the Down syndrome. She suffers from cardiac hypertrophy, which causes her breathing difficulties, especially at night. The cardiac surgeons in our country refused to operate, so the only hope is to raise money to go to Germany for surgery. The woman says that she does not have her own home or the possibility to work. She has to get along with the child’s monthly disability pension, of 75 euros (1,500 lei). 

“I am a simple person. I live on a pension. I have huge difficulties in bringing up this child. I may not eat for days to have something to give her,” the woman said.

Two years ago, the woman addressed My Moldova Association advised by a neighbor.

“I wrote the request. I left the copy of the passport. I also opened a bank account and Mr. Ghelici took out 10 euros (200 lei) out of his wallet and gave it to me for the little girl. 

He said, “Wait, everything will be fine, we will raise money to buy a house and to do the surgery.” 

I have had no news from them for two years, nothing has happened. The card was never used in two years. There was no transfer on the card. I was really surprised,” she says, showing her dissatisfaction. She claims she did not agree for someone to go on the street and collect money for her child.

“I thought that, if you open a bank account, it means that there are donations, people donate for such children who need surgery, that’s how I understood. I did not give my consent to gather money on the street.”

On August 2, we met three volunteers of the My Moldova Association in the Valea Trandafirilor Park, midtown Chișinău. Then a volunteer told us about the most dreadful case for which she collects money, the tragedy of a six-year-old girl, hospitalized at the Municipal Clinical Hospital No. 1. 

According to the volunteer, when the child was only two months old, a car hit her in the Ciocana sector. Since then, she is in a coma and eats only through probes, which costs the girl’s mother around 30 euros (600 lei) per day.

We found the family mentioned by the volunteer and learned that the child died in mid-July. The girl’s mother tells us that she does not want to appear in journalistic materials, so we do not disclose her identity. She cannot believe that the volunteers of My Moldova Association continue collecting money for her daughter and argues that she would have terminated the contract with them a year ago.

“I went to them while they had volunteers. We had a volunteer who helped us monthly with about 50-75 euros (1,000-1,500 lei). The girl worked in Russia and when she was there, she stayed with the money collection box. There were also volunteers in Chișinău, but I don’t know them personally because they don’t take care of an individual child or a family. I know that Mr. Ghelici also helps families with school supplies and second-hand things. I have nothing more to say. I terminated the contract with them a year ago,” the woman points out.

While working on this subject, ZdG discussed with other families who submitted applications requesting help from the Association and who have similar stories.

Volunteering for Money

Aurica Golub and Valentina David are two of the volunteers we see almost daily opposite the headquarters of the General Prosecutor’s Office, downtown Chișinău. We talked to them and asked about the destination of the money collected by them.

We approach the two young women with the cameras on. In a short while, Valentina distances herself from us, and Aurica continues to say that she collects donations for 21 children with heart failure, scoliosis and leukemia. 

We inform her that we spoke to the families for whom they raise money and they confirmed that they do not receive any money. The volunteer continues to insist that the money goes to the families for whom donations are collected. 

We suggest choosing a family at random and contacting it to ask directly about the help they receive from My Moldova. 

Although the volunteer keeps urging us to call their leader, she chooses a family to contact in the end. The volunteer chooses to call Olesea Robuleț’s family, with whom we talked earlier and who reported that her brother had died, and for a year, her family had not received any money from the Association.

Thus, we persist asking the volunteer to tell us how much money they manage to raise per month and where the money ends up.

ZDG: What do you do with the money you collect?

Aurica Golub (A.G.): We give it to our organizer.

ZDG: So you give it to him, right?

A.G .: Yes, and we keep a little for ourselves because we also have families to raise, a little, that is, not much. I’m a single mother, yes, and we also need money to keep up our families. But I tell you, in a month, we collect about 50-75 euros (1,000-1,500 lei). I can show you.

ZDG: And how much money do you receive?

A.G. Around 20-30 euros (400-450-600 lei). It depends on how much we manage to collect.

ZDG: And how much do you receive?

Valentina David (V.D.) The same because I work with her and I don’t do more than … Yesterday, for example, we collected less than 5 euros (100 lei)…

ZDG: So how much do you say you receive?

V.D. Around 15-20, up to 30 euros (350-400 lei, up to 600 lei). I only work two-three hours every day, no more. I also have children at home.

When collecting donations, volunteers invite people to indicate the amount donated and to sign on some sheets in their folders. Therefore, we ask one of the volunteers to allow us to film the sheets she has in the folder. All pages dated July 18, 2020. A simple calculation shows that the volunteer would have collected no less than 275 euros (5,500 lei) during that day. However, the volunteers mentioned that they only raise 50-75 euros (1,000-1,500 lei) per month. The discussion with the two volunteers ends after the young women show their disappointment that the money they collect does not reach the families for whom they raise money. The women state that they intend to leave the Association because they no longer trust their leader.

The Main Decision Maker

The civic activist Fiodor Ghelici registered My Moldova as a public association in 2005 and has been its leader since then. The association’s headquarters are in a building on Uzinelor Street midtown Chișinău, owned by one of Fiodor Ghelici’s sons. Until 2015, the building was registered in the name of Fiodor Ghelici. 

Ghelici waited for us in his office at the headquarters of My Moldova together with the two volunteers we had spoken earlier. The leader of the Association greeted us nervously. He forbade us to film and insisted on taking off our protective masks. Ghelici was indignant that we did not ask him for information about the families for whom the money is collected. He mentioned that he would write a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office and would sue us because we scared and humiliated the volunteers.

Ghelici stated that the volunteers collect donations for all the families who addressed the Association and not for a particular family. The leader of the Association claims that the people who asked for help can give to the volunteers their bank details. However, there are also people who ask for help but do not have bank accounts. 

Although people donate for families whose personal data is in the volunteers’ folders, Ghelici says that they distribute the money to other families who asked for help, according to the principle of priority need.

“We fundraise for everyone. We have two categories of people – those who have bank accounts and those who do not have bank accounts, whom I call and they come to get the money. For example, someone came yesterday, we gave him 100 euros (2,000 lei), that’s all we had. Today, 110 euros (2,200 lei). I give them as much as I have. Listen to me carefully, here I am the decision maker, if you donate, then I decide who needs help the most,” he claimed.

Ghelici denied his responsibility when we communicated to him that no money was transferred to the families’ bank accounts. 

“We give the bank details to those who want to transfer money. If nothing comes, go out on the street and ask people why they are so rotten and heartless. Don’t blame me. You have to thank me,” he says.

In order to prove to us that the donations reach their destination, Ghelici contacts Galina Oloi, mother of three children, one of whom has a degree of disability. The woman’s data is in the volunteers’ folders and in 2014 she asked for help to treat her child with disabilities. Earlier, contacted by ZdG, she told us that the association did not help her in any way. 

While talking to the leader of the Association, the woman stated the opposite and said that they helped her very much, confirming all the amounts that Ghelici claimed to have given her. Subsequently, repeatedly contacted by ZdG, the woman refused to explain her contradictory statements.

Regarding the 21 families for which the volunteers collect donations, Ghelici claims that the document they present simply show people how many persons address for help. At the same time, he mentions that out of the 21 children with disabilities, the association provided financial support to a boy whose parents died in a car accident.

“Activists and volunteers are all with their own intellect. You tell them one thing, but they understand it differently,” says the leader of the Association, when asked why volunteers claim to raise money specifically for these families.

Asked about the children and people who died, but for whom the volunteers still collect money, he said that the association has the responsibility of distributing the family bank details and that it was their duty to notify them of the death.

“Our volunteers rarely come here, they leave and … . I don’t have the opportunity to call all the volunteers for a meeting. I do not even feel compelled to do it. Only once a month we make the activists come here, because there are corrections, someone died, someone refused or new requests came,” points out Ghelici.

We asked Ghelici to prove that all the donations, collected by volunteers, reach socially vulnerable families. Ghelici responded that he does not intend to convince anyone. 

“The most important thing for me is, to be honest and that today I help people,” Ghelici stated.  

According to Ghelici, once a month, his volunteers bring him the collected donations, and he signs for the amounts received and distributes them to the families on his list. We asked Ghelici how many volunteers are registered. However, he refused to tell us. Ghelici also told us that he does not know exactly how much money they collect every month. He claims that he receives from volunteers amounts that vary between 10 and 60 euros (200 and 1200 lei). 

Asked if he trusts that volunteers record all the money coming from donations, Ghelici avoided giving a direct answer. 

“I am not even sure if my wife is not cheating on me. Did I answer your question? I don’t trust anyone, not even my own wife,” said Ghelici.

He denied that volunteers are paid for their work. After we told him that some volunteers admitted that they receive money for their work, he changed his answer.

“I cannot go after every volunteer. We are grateful to people who have made a conscious civic decision to help someone. We tell them thank you, but we do not aim to run after everyone with the cash register.

I sign here that I receive. I give all this money to those families who are on my list. But if they keep some of the money, what can I do? I know. We have a volunteer, who has four children, she came to me and I said, “Collect donations, feed and raise the children,” says Ghelici.

At our insistent requests, the leader of the association presented a folder, which, according to him, included all the confirmatory documents regarding the donations offered by the My Moldova Association between 2013 and 2020. 

An analysis of the documents shows that, in the first half of 2020, the Association distributed to nine families around 500 euros (9,300 lei) collected from donations. 

In 2019, the Association allocated over 1,500 euros (31,300 lei), distributing them to 13 families. 

In 2018, three families received a total of 130 euros (2,700 lei), and in 2017, according to the same documents, two families received a total of 20 euros (400 lei). 

In 2016, one family received around 15 euros (300 lei), and around 1,500 euros (31,000 lei) was used to buy implants for children diagnosed with scoliosis. 

In 2015, the documents show only one family that received around 40 euros (800 lei).

In 2014, the Association donated implants worth over 3,300 euros (65,000 lei) to the Mother and Child Institute for children with scoliosis, and another eight families received over 600 euros (12,200 lei). 

In 2013, the My Moldova Association distributed a total of 1,200 euros (25,500 lei) among 10 families. According to the documents presented by Ghelici, a child, diagnosed with scoliosis, received implants worth over 4,000 euros (82,600 lei) during the same year.

Although we repeatedly asked Ghelici to offer us information regarding the amounts of money the Association’s volunteers collected monthly or annually, he avoided doing it because such information is not accounted for.

Seizure on Financial Means from the Accounts He Held in 13 Banks

Ghelici’s name appears in dozens of other civil and misdemeanor cases pending today in the courts, some of them being financial disputes.

In 2016-2020, following a dispute with Moldova-Agroindbank, the financial institution obtained the right to sell several real estates from Bălțata village, Criuleni district, the north of Moldova, registered in the name of Fiodor Ghelici. In 2020, the assets were alienated. 

No less than three bailiffs applied seizures on a 51.4 square meter apartment located on Alba Iulia Street downtown Chișinău, registered in the name of the Ghelici family. 

In 2019, in litigation, the court applied to Fiodor Ghelici seizures on the financial means from the accounts he held in 13 banks (!). At the same time, the court decision of July 12, 2019, states that Ghelici owns 11 means of transport that were announced in search, but which have not been found so far.

Ghelici’s family is the founder or manages several companies in Moldova: Transghelici, Ovesan, Prodalliance, or Vetuga-Zemif. Ghelici is known in public for his press conferences in which he accuses various civil servants of involvement in acts of corruption.

He ran independently as a deputy in 2005 but garnered only 0.07 percent of the votes. In 2019, he tried to register in the electoral campaign again, but without success. He previously held the position of chairperson of the Commission for Public Control within the Civil Society Council under the President of Moldova, Igor Dodon.

AUTHOR MAIL

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