SEATTLE -- King County prosecutors have charged a Connecticut businessman with five felonies for allegedly scamming local charities through their fundraisers.
Investigators believe Kevin Kolenda of Norwalk, Conn., sold insurance to local non-profits who hosted golf tournaments. Prosecutors say Kolenda, 54, offered to insure prizes as large as $50,000 for a fraction of the cost, but ended up refusing to pay winners or dragging his feet at returning deposits.
"Over and over again, Mr. Kolenda has taken in insurance money and promised to pay, and then what we've heard complaints about over and over again, is that he does not pay," said Rich Roesler, a spokesman for state insurance commissioner's office. "We've seen charities dip into their own pockets to make up these payments."
Roesler's office has been tracking Kolenda and a website they say he is affiliated with called hole-in-won.com for eight years, after investigators say Kolenda illegally sold insurance for a Bremerton golf tournament. In that case, Roesler said a golfer tried to claim a $10,000 prize for a hole-in-one, but Kolenda wouldn't pay.
That case, along with another around the same time, led to a cease-and-desist order in Washington State, which Kolenda violated, Roesler said.
After a number of complaints, investigators enlisted the help of Capitol Hill-based Gilda's Club, which provides free services to cancer patients and their families. The non-profit puts on an annual celebrity golf tournament fundraiser featuring NFL players and more.
Investigators asked the charity to enlist the services of hole-in-won.com, signing a contract with the company for a $25,000 cash prize for the first hole-in-one on the 10th hole, in exchange for a $540 fee, according to charging papers.
"They told us what they suspected this person of doing and it sounded like someone you didn't want out there doing it anymore," said Marlene Diskin, development director for Gilda's Club. "We know how hard it is to raise money and we're very respectful of people who donate money to us."
"The last thing you want is somebody out there who is taking advantage of charities or anybody else, but especially charities," she said.
Diskin contacted Hole-in-Won to ask that their deposit be returned after the course changed for the tournament. The company "has not responded to her requests," prosecutors wrote in charging documents, and Gilda's Club never received its money back.
Kolenda is due in court in Seattle on September 5. The company didn't respond to calls or emails Thursday night.
"It makes me angry," Diskin added. "That's why we cooperated, because it just makes you so angry that somebody has the nerve and it's so heartless to do that."
Kolenda faced a $6 million dollar fine for similar charges in Connecticut, where the company is based. In 2009, he told a newspaper there the allegations against him were "insane."