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Register with state as a charity or quit raising money, group told

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A Maui nonprofit group trying to raise $20 million for a post-traumatic stress center for military members has been told by the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office to cease all fundraising activity until it registers with the state as a charity, officials said.

Stay Strong Nation was instructed last week to stop soliciting money, said Hugh R. Jones, administrator of charities resources for the Attorney General’s Office.

But as of yesterday, Stay Strong Nation’s website still included a page advertising three ways to donate.

"Then they are acting in violation of our charitable solicitation law," Jones said Tuesday.

Stay Strong President L.A. Keith Crosby said Tuesday the organization had complied with the attorney general’s request to stop seeking donations.

Told about the website, however, Crosby said, "That’s national, so what’s that got to do with Oahu? We ceased (fundraising) operations here."

However, Jones said a Hawaii-based charity may not solicit contributions via any means — telemarketing, direct mail and Internet included — without going through the registration process.

A charity watchdog recently called the nonprofit "highly questionable" because its organizers have no professional expertise with post-traumatic stress disorder, and grass-roots fundraising for a $20 million treatment center is not a typical approach. Stay Strong Nation says traumatic brain injury also would be treated at the Maui center.

Crosby, a maintenance worker at Hale Mahina Beach Resort, recently said Stay Strong Nation had raised a "minuscule" amount of money after starting to solicit donations through its website as far back as 2008.

Stay Strong Nation more recently embarked on a national awareness and money-raising campaign, appearing in New York’s Times Square in September and on a Fox News television broadcast on Jan. 1.

It said it planned fundraising events at Kualoa Ranch in April and on the mainland during stops in Miami; Nashville, Tenn.; Lake Tahoe, Nev.; New Jersey; and Iowa.

The Attorney General’s Office said nonprofit organizations that take in less than $25,000 a year are not required to register with the office.

"We’ve asked them to register, we’ve notified them of the requirement, and they have not made any claim that they are exempt from registration," Jones said.

The organization started, but could not complete, the registration process because the group wasn’t sure what it spent its money on, Jones said.

"They said they were unable to break down their expenses and income to fill out the registration form because their (accountant) was still figuring that out," Jones said.

Crosby said he has some of that "paperwork" on Maui, that an accountant on Oahu has some, and that he needs to collect the information.

"We’re just trying to keep doing what we do," Crosby said. "This is just a little bump in the road for us."

Jones said he’s waiting to see what progress Stay Strong Nation makes to register as a charity.

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