ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The 2012 Kenny Thomas Foundation golf tournament was promoted as a “high-profile” event that would “host many celebrities and dignitaries from New Mexico and throughout the country” to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albuquerque & Rio Rancho.
An organizer mentioned NBA legend Moses Malone as being invited to the Oct. 12 event and a promotional email said “many celebrities as in NFL, NBA UFC & PGA” would be in attendance.
The organizer also said Kenny Thomas, a former UNM hoops and NBA star, was a spokesman for the local boys and girls club.
But celebrity attendance was sparse.
And Tim Sheahan, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albuquerque & Rio Rancho, said Thomas is not a spokesman for the local Boys & Girls clubs and he knows nothing about the tournament benefiting the clubs.
Sheahan also said the organization has never received any money from Thomas or his foundation, other than items Thomas purchased at a live auction held during the Boys & Girls Clubs annual gala last June.
Sheahan said several times, and as recently as last week, that no one from the foundation has said anything to him about receiving any proceeds from the tournament. In fact, Sheahan says, “They asked if we might be interested in being sponsor. … I was a little confused, just because we’re a charity.”
The foundation approached the Journal in late September seeking publicity about the golf tournament. But, as the Journal began work on the story, several questions arose. They include:
♦ What is the Kenny Thomas Foundation? The foundation was a New Mexico nonprofit corporation that lost its status in 2007. It was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation the following year in Texas and lost its status there in January 2011. The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office says it has no records showing the foundation has filed as a charity in New Mexico.
♦ Has the foundation made good on all of its scholarship promises? The parents of two Albuquerque High students promised $6,000 scholarships apiece in 2008 say they have yet to receive the full amount.
♦ What constitutes a celebrity? The pre-event news release and other correspondence said various pro sports celebrities had been invited to the event. According to the scoreboard posted at the Oct. 12 event, only 18 players in addition to Thomas participated. None had the name recognition of Thomas.
Since the tournament, the organizers have not answered Journal questions regarding the foundation’s status, the amount raised by the tournament or questions regarding scholarships. Attorney Ken Harris from Charlotte, N.C., has responded several times, but has not directly answered many of the questions. Instead, he has warned the Journal to avoid making any false or misleading statements or face litigation.
Thomas is well known in Albuquerque. The Albuquerque High graduate and former Lobo played 11 seasons in the NBA and, according to reports from basketballreference.com, made more than $50 million during his NBA career.
Last month, he was inducted into the UNM Hall of Honor, and for years he put on an annual youth basketball camp.
When you Google “Kenny Thomas Foundation,” it gives you the Kenny Thomas Enterprises website. According to that website, the Kenny Thomas Foundation helps provide educational assistance to New Mexico youth.
The website, kennythomasenterprises.com, says the “Kenny Thomas Foundation was founded in October of 2007 to establish good will in its founder’s hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as other cities that contributed to his success.”
“… The Kenny Thomas Foundation seeks to train individuals who benefit from the foundation to give a helping hand to those in need. The Foundation aims to accomplish this goal through various measures, including college scholarships given to graduating college-bound high school seniors and its Education Initiative programs promoting education.”
The website does not claim that the foundation is tax-exempt.
In October, Tiffany Parker, who identified herself in a telephone interview as Thomas’ business partner, said the Kenny Thomas Foundation has 501(c)(3) status.
“Uh huh, we have that status,” she said in response to a question.
In 2010, the foundation filed a federal 2009 IRS tax return claiming it had 501(c)(3) status, which the IRS defines as being tax-exempt and organized exclusively for religion, charitable, education and other specified purposes.
According to New Mexico state law, all charitable organizations must register with the state Attorney General’s Office, and it defines charitable organizations as all those with 501(c)(3) status or having a charitable purpose.
Phil Sisneros of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said this includes all charitable organizations “that exist, operate or solicit in New Mexico” regardless of where they are physically located.
“Our Charities Unit looked in our database for the Kenny Thomas Foundation and cannot find an organization with that name or EIN (employer identification number for the Internal Revenue Service) registered with our office,” he said.
According to New Mexico Public Regulation Commission records, the Kenny Thomas Foundation received a certificate of incorporation in January 2005 as a domestic nonprofit, and a certificate of revocation in October 2007.
The only tax filing the Journal could find for the foundation was the 990-PF filed in 2010 for the 2009 year as a 501(c)(3) organization. It described the foundation as being based in Houston, and listed a cash contribution from Kenny Thomas of $136,580.
The Texas secretary of state currently lists the Kenny Thomas Foundation’s status as “forfeited existence.” It defines that as having inactive status, indicating the organization failed to file its tax return or pay its taxes due.
In response to a Journal request for the foundation’s 2010 and 2011 990-PFs, the foundation’s attorney, Harris, said in an email he was “unaware of any election by Kenny’s Foundation in favor of tax-exempt status. I am also unaware of any income received or generated by the Foundation. Resultantly, I am confused about your questions concerning any Form 990-F filings. That said, those questions would be reserved for the Foundation’s accountant.”
Since Harris sent that email, no one from the foundation has answered Journal questions regarding the foundation’s status.
The celebrity golf tournament was held at Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club in Sandia Park, east of Albuquerque.
In a news release prior to the event, Thomas said: “This tournament will allow my foundation to continue to support local charities such as the Boy’s and Girl’s club of Albuquerque and other charities in the area.”
In an interview prior to the tournament, the Journal asked Parker which charities would benefit from the event.
“Kenny is a spokesperson for the Boys and Girls Club of Rio Rancho,” Parker said. “He’s also an ambassador for the Special Olympics organization in Albuquerque. So that’s where the proceeds for the golf tournament are going.”
The Kenny Thomas Enterprises website also describes Thomas as “a Spokesperson for the Boys and Girls Clubs in Albuquerque NM.”
“I’ve heard that before, but it’s not true,” said Sheahan, head of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. “We had some discussion early on in the year about that, but it never became reality.”
Meanwhile, Randy Mascorella, executive director of Special Olympics New Mexico, said she was unaware the Kenny Thomas Foundation named her organization as a beneficiary for the golf tournament.
Mascorella said Thomas played in the Special Olympics golf tournament last summer and allowed Special Olympians to keep the prizes he won, but she couldn’t remember what they were. She said Thomas also spent time at the tournament having his photo taken with Special Olympians.
She said Thomas “provided some in-kind contributions, I believe. He gave us water, if I remember correctly.”
Thomas promotes Infinity O2 bottled water and has a photo of himself holding up a bottle of the product on the home page of his website.
Mascorella also said it is not unusual for Special Olympics to be unaware of an event and receive money after the fact.
A news release previewing the October golf tournament also quoted Thomas as saying the event “allows us to continue to provide assistance and scholarships to local area high school graduates and college students.”
In 2008, the Kenny Thomas Foundation named two Albuquerque High graduates — Eddie Crawford and Adela Garcia — recipients of scholarships that promised each $6,000.
Crawford’s mother, Bernadetta Crawford, said Eddie was paid $3,000 but never received the rest of the money.
“I tried to get a hold of people and it would lead me to different companies,” Bernadetta Crawford said. “Like, when I would go online. And I went searching away, and people wouldn’t call me back or I’d leave messages, and they never really got a hold of me. They just kind of left me hanging.”
Garcia’s mother, America Garcia, said Adela received $4,500 before the payments stopped.
When asked if she was disappointed, America Garcia said: “Well, of course, disappointed that he didn’t fulfill his total promise, but totally appreciative of what he did.”
No one from Kenny Thomas Enterprises or the foundation has provided the Journal information about how much Thomas’ Oct. 12 golf tournament raised for charity.
Entry fee was $150 per player, and a news release said “for larger sponsorship packages, you can visit www.KennyThomasEnterprises.com.”
The foundation booked the entire course at Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club, but the scoreboard at the tournament listed only 18 players and Thomas.
Harris said in an email that inclement weather diminished the success of the tournament, but that Thomas laid the foundation for a successful event next year.
One of the players was Donnie Wallace, who was billed as the event’s main celebrity. He is the director of tournament operations for the PGA Tour.
In early October, when the Journal asked for the contact information for a celebrity to interview prior to the event as part of its advance coverage, it was given the name of Wallace. When the Journal asked for a higher-profile celebrity, it was told:
“The celebrities that we have coming, like Moses Malone and the guys who are UFC fighters, I don’t know if that would be a big enough draw for you, either,” Parker said. “I thought we could spin it with Kenny’s UNM, University of New Mexico’s Hall of Honor designation and tie it all in that way.”
Parker was asked whether Malone had committed, and she said: “I’m gonna confirm him in the morning. I just talked to him, and he’s flighty as all get out.”
Malone did not attend the event.
Thomas Lawyer’s Response
Last month, the Journal requested information about the foundation from several individuals.
They included contacts listed on the Kenny Thomas Enterprises website: Tiffany Parker, operations; Charlotte Geter, marketing and public relations; Ken Harris, legal affairs; and Kenny Thomas, president/CEO; as well as J. Hill and Dashae “Dada” Hampton, who sent information to the Journal to promote the Kenny Thomas Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Following the Journal’s requests, Harris, a Charlotte, N.C.-based attorney who says he represents Thomas, sent several email responses, including this one on Nov. 7:
“At this point, no one in this organization will have any comment. Your requests for information appear to be misguided and based on a misunderstanding of foundation requirements. In addition, will we (sic) not provide to you any additional information or statements. You are, likely, well aware of my background as a litigator. If there are inaccuracies or misstatements contained in your story, I can absolutely guarantee you that we will initiate legal proceedings immediately.”
The Journal then provided the same individuals a more detailed list of questions, seeking response to the parents’ concerns over scholarships and the foundation’s relationship with the girls and boys clubs.
On Nov. 15, Harris sent an email stating:
“The negative nature of your story has been apparent from the beginning. And, I have advised you to avoid libelous assertions, innuendo or statements concerning Mr. Thomas, his contributions to the Albuquerque community or to the Foundation.
“We eagerly await your story.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal