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Hotshots charities: Where's the money? Taxes, legal issues delay payout

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier

Sharon Knutson-Felix, president of the 100 Club of Arizona, addresses the media about the donations made to the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ families Friday morning at the courthouse plaza in downtown Prescott.

Families could receive proceeds by December

PRESCOTT - Money from a multitude of fundraisers of all sizes could make it into the hands of the Hotshot families by December at the earliest.

According to representatives with the newly formed Granite Mountain 19 Distribution Advisory Committee, who spoke during a press conference at the courthouse plaza on Friday, the disbursement is contingent on a number of factors, including tax questions, legal issues, and how best to pay the funds to each family of the 19 fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots, who died battling the Yarnell Hill fire on June 30.

Committee representative Russ Kirk said December would be the earliest those funds could be made available to the families, and indicated it could take longer. The money could be dispersed in January, in order to give the families a year to figure out the tax consequences their payout could bring. The donations came through the organizations Prescott Fire Fighters Charities and the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association. The 100 Club of Arizona has been using donations it has received to meet the immediate needs of family members.

"At best we're not going to be able to write any checks until December. We don't want to give all these families a bunch of money and have it be a burden. Most of them are young parents. We're going to take them through financial advisement and give them options," Kirk said. The matter of trusts has also been discussed, according to committee members, for the kids of the Hotshots, which includes two unborn children.

The advisory committee formed three weeks ago to handle issues related to the massive fundraising effort, in particular the approximately $4.7 million raised for the families since the fire. Fundraisers for the family members, meanwhile, continue to be held.

The five-member committee consists of Ray Maione, a member of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona; Tony Sciacca, a wildland firefighter incident commander in Prescott; Russ Kirk; with the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association; Billie Denike, a civilian with the Prescott Fire Fighters Charities; and Dan Bates, president of the Prescott Firefighters Union and local firefighter. Denike is employed as a dispatcher for the City of Prescott.

"From June 30 through today, there's been this concerted effort with these two charities to raise money and figure out the logistics of distributing it to people, consulting with a CPA (certified public accountant) and consulting with a lawyer to make sure they were obeying a very complex set of laws. While that was going on, the 100 Club was here meeting the needs of the families. They have in place a mechanism to react immediately," said David Leibowitz, spokesman for the committee, family members, and the Professional Firefighters of Arizona.

Local attorney Alex Vacula and accountant Matt Holdsworth have volunteered their time to assist the committee. Both are currently handling tax issues and legal ramifications associated with the donations. The money, meanwhile, remains in a local bank, Denike said, but added that every dime, including interest, will be made available to the families.

In similar tragedies, where large-scale donations occurred, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, and elsewhere, disbursement took anywhere from three months to more than a year, Leibowitz said.

A number of the Granite Mountain Hotshots widows attended the Friday morning conference to voice their support for the 100 Club of Arizona, including Amanda Marsh, who said the organization has been available to her and the other families when needed. Sharon Knutson-Felix, president of the 100 Club of Arizona, said her organization has collected approximately $3 million in donations and that money is distributed every day to meet the needs of the 19 families.

This article first appeared online 08/23/13 at 1 PM


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