Hero Program’s Nonprofit Spun Core Initiatives Into For-profit Company

frontline-poison-free-hero-program

A nonprofit entity that operates the Hero Program spun one of its most successful initiatives into a for-profit corporation run by some of the same people, an investigation by the Beaver Countian has revealed.

Frontline Initiative Inc. operates the “Hero Program,” which utilized first responders, high school students, public officials, and local companies to purportedly raise money for children suffering from terminal illnesses. As the Beaver Countian first reported last week, the IRS revoked Frontline’s nonprofit status (and the Hero Program’s along with it) after the organization failed to file returns for 3 consecutive years. Many questions related to the organization’s finances remain unanswered, and Frontline has still not made its returns public. Following the Beaver Countian’s report, the organization issued a statement promising those records will be made available on its website sometime “in Q1 2014.”

Along with the “Hero Program,” Frontline also ran an initiative dubbed “Poison Free.” That effort sought to motivate and inspire at-risk-youth in Beaver County though a work-study program which taught web design, marketing principals, and business practices. As part of that effort, Frontline approached local companies to sell development services, giving students real-world experiences and training, providing a funding vehicle for the nonprofit organization, and at the same time offering a way for companies to meet their marketing objects by directly supporting their community.

The group also held instructional camps during the summer for the Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) and the nonprofit Prevention Network.

The innovative initiatives operated by Frontline through “Poison Free” won the organization a Not-For-Profit Corporation of the Year Award in 2009 from the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce (View a promotional brochure the nonprofit Poison Free distributed to potential clients).

But their efforts wouldn’t remain not-for-profit for long.

The web design and marketing services offered by Poison Free became increasingly successful, seeing a broad client base built from corporations and other nonprofits in Beaver County and beyond. Companies ranging from Allen Jewlers to Agway of Pittsburgh joined nonprofits like Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Beaver County and the Uncommon Grounds Cafe to have trendy websites created by the Poison Free initiative. Poison Free also provided web hosting services which generated regular recurring income for the nonprofit organization.

The money generated by Poison Free, run by Brooks Canavasi, was then combined with the considerable donations being raised by the Hero Program, run by Steven Wetzel — all under the umbrella of the Frontline Initiative Inc. nonprofit, which both men operated together as paid officers.

Poison Free used those funds in part to help market itself and grow its client base. The nonprofit would in effect become a de facto corporate incubator for a for-profit entity to come.

Research by the Beaver Countian shows that on May 26, 2010, Poison Free and Frontline Initiative founder Brooks Canavasi established “On Deck Systems LLC,” a for-profit corporation.

The Prevention Network, which had been a partner of Poison Free and Frontline Initiative, signed on as a client of the new On Deck Systems. Websites for client companies which once said “Site by Poison Free” were soon updated to read “Site By On Deck Systems,” as Poison Free’s list of clients were migrated in bulk from the nonprofit to Canavasi’s new for-profit corporation. On Deck Systems moved into the same building as the Hero Program on Third Street in Beaver.

As the Beaver Countian was finishing its investigation of the ties between Poison Free and On Deck Systems over the past week, the Frontline Initiative posted a stunning statement on its website last Wednesday acknowledging the nonprofit-to-for-profit transformation. “Poison Free program became dormant in 2011 as a for-profit entity was created due to the business demand from the community was so large. The for-profit entity created jobs in Beaver County and continues to be a valuable resource to nationwide customers.”

The Hero Program’s website was updated with a statement of its own, admitting to the co-mingling of funds with Poison Free, “Note: 2012 and 2013 are the first two years that Hero Program has operated by itself under the Frontline Initiative. In previous years the Hero Program operated in conjunction with Poison Free which had employees and operated as a training and community development organization.”

According to records maintained by the IRS, the nonprofit Frontline Initiative stopped filing federal returns after the for-profit On Deck Systems LLC was established in 2010; although the nonprofit organization (whose status has been revoked by the IRS) continues to host large fundraisers, accept charitable contributions, and administer the Hero Program.

Brooks Canavesi now works as the Director of Sales for a company called OpenArc, an IT consulting firm based out of Wexford. That corporation, which lists 26 employees on its website, has a satellite office at 1307 3rd Street in Beaver – the same address as On Deck Systems and the Hero Program. OpenArc is now listed as the development company responsible for the Hero Program’s websites.

Steven Wetzel has failed to answer specific questions about the finances of the Frontline Initiative or the Hero Program, and Brook Canavasi has failed to return messages left for him by the Beaver Countian at several different phone numbers.

Wetzel did leave comments on the Beaver Countian’s first investigative report about his organization, saying “We help kids and this online paper tries to prevent us from doing it with assumptions [...] Financial reports will be on site soon. The facts are so far off.”

But in lieu of the missing returns or detailed financial records from the past four years, the Hero Program published just a 1 page summary Profit & Loss statement from 2013 instead. Along with adding the P&L statement, the organization removed information about upcoming fundraisers from its website following the Beaver Countian’s first report.

1307 Third Street, Beaver - imagery via © Google Maps

1307 Third Street, Beaver – imagery via © Google Maps

 

33 comments

  1. Got anything positive to say about anything in Beaver County?!?

  2. @ angelette holtman are you pissed that this guy uncovers things that wrong it’s been a blessing at times I dont agree with language and the open blogging but totally amazed.

    @ John Paul what you get and the facts this is fraud thank you for investigating these things,I for one feel violated

  3. There’s nothing positive in this county.

  4. SpeakTheTruthToo

    Very similar to PA Cyber School scam only using donations instead of tax payer money. Not sure if this is legal, but should be the end of this fake charity that pads Brooks and Steven’s pockets. If I was John Chalis’ parents, I’d be pissed that Steven played my son’s death like this. What a scumbag.

  5. YouSpeakTheTruth?

    If you are going to bring up the Chalis’s; why is Mr. Chalis going on all these trips with the CFL recipients? That was never the intent of the foundation and is a huge waste of money that could go to helping other kids.

    Don’t claim to speak the truth, if you don’t actually know it!

    • SpeakTheTruthToo

      I don’t know anything about that, but I would like to know if Raven has made a decision about moving those investments of his.

      • Apparently, Brooks Canavesi is not directly involved with the Canavesi Group any more.  I can imagine that they might be scrambling to clear references to their firm’s name. But, I shall not be going back right now. I can do it online. It’s unfortunate to have to see where this matter leads, but investment with funds and taking advice is chancy enough, and I don’t have money to throw away.  Personally, I like the firm.  They have done well by me, managing funds and giving good advice, totally honest and upfront. Holding off for awhile will not hurt anything. I do believe, personally, that more will unfold in the future, as people explore the extent of the reported problems, because I have seen similar matters occur before in other places with nonprofits. This is some pretty bad stuff, and I don’t like where it’s headed. John Paul is not making it up or singling them out; they screwed up. It can be referenced; and people would be wise to see what develops. When investing, one shouldn’t skirt the tax issues. They are quite easy to accommodate. It’s basic. That is why such bonehead double dealing, among people who should know better, is so strange to me in this case. 

  6. This is amazing reporting by this siteI have not been a fan of open blogging where swearing takes place and ect.but have to admit the investigating is amazing, its sad but its reality and needs aired out.Wetzel is a hanger on that just loves to be around sport celebrity types and found away, to make some scratch while playing big time.Mr. Canavasi seems to be running more than just one non profit gaining profit for himself and looking to capitalize by turning the charity into a private business, did he follow the PA cyber method? Whats worse than pa cyber is what this group of white collar punks are doing its taking donations and putting a band aid on an issue that needs stitches, while gaining profit and creating ways to suck the funds out through other cost.And doing so with multiple non profits, his parents must be sick at the mess these kids cause , sorry they are in the mid 30s but its a shame, scam, and just another american greed story for DATELINE.

  7. Couldnt help to notice the PREVENTION NETWORK was mention, that place has some issue in operations of funds too,So when and what agency will investigate this frontline debacle seems really criminal

  8. Considering the contemptuous, sycophantic, and envious source that’s only out to bash anyone he can; I can assure you these accusations are false. Ask anyone in this county about their honest opinion of Mr. John Paul and you will begin to see a negative pattern. All of these claims are uncredited and simply a fabrication conspired from a delusional mind out for his own gain. The only proof this frivolous, deceitful, spineless wannabe journalist has, is that no returns were filed. Mr. Paul has a personal vendetta toward these men and will use his un resourceful, slandering hate pages on his gullible online audience against anyone that’s not on his side. It’s just a shame that positive charitable programs and its recipients may be scrutinized because of some slandering,slimy, biased, hate mongrel.

    • The only people who think negatively of JP are those who are exposed for what they really are.  I have never seen JP need to make a retraction or apology of any sort;  nor have i seen any legal proceedings against him for libel or slander. I am grateful for his investigations.  There has been so much we would have never known about otherwise.   Talking about a biased hate-mongrel, Mike?  Look in the mirror.

    • Mike Emerson. When you drag out the thesaurus, paper or online, to bulk up your comments, at least be sure that the more flowery terms you dig out represent something. Sycophantic? Come on, now. How so?  Envious? Of what? Spineless? Now, he’s a journalisitic invertebrate.  And four adjectives in a row? Three times? Contrived rhetoric. So boring. Don’t let that become a habit. But, congratulations. You fit all of this week’s English class vocabulary list into one paragraph. And JP is a Mongrel? Monger, maybe, with a hyphen, capitalized if you really mean it. At least you read comic books. Mongrel doesn’t “sell” here. But what really pisses me off is using a comma before “and” in an adjective series — unconscionably bad. And even worse, the ultimate transgression against English syntax, using a comma between a subject and predicate. Not even a caesura is required there. Have you no shame?!  You are bordering upon mechanical treason. Actually, we of the gullible online audience deserve better. Go back and try again. Better yet, read, then write, more. And don’t come back again. 

      • I agree raven, mike is trying a little too hard to appear educated.  And you forgot to mention his improper use of the semi-colon…lol.

      • Yes, marshmoore, that attempt at an introductory participial phrase sentence modifier should have a proper comma. I was so livid about the other shocking fatal mistakes that I skipped the most obvious. Apparently, he doesn’t know how absolutely damning we of the gullible online audience are. Kids these days….sheeesh. Quite a “Person of Interest”. 

    • Mr. Emerson, your comment is actually fairly representative of several I’ve seen recently.  While I don’t usually engage in tit for tat, I’ll take this opportunity to share some thoughts:

      This is a lovely bit of argumentum ad hominem.  Unfortunately, what it fails to do is point out any specific facts in the story which you “know” to be inaccurate.  This makes it impossible for me to investigate and issue correction if necessary.

      But I suspect we won’t be seeing any of that.

      What little information that was released by the Hero Program and Frontline, a 1 page summary Profit and Loss statement from last year, has now been pulled from their website as well.

      This article was not thrown together in an hour, and neither was my first piece on the subject.  They were both thoroughly researched and I have a great deal of documentation and/or sourcing to back up each point made in the piece.  

      Everyone who regularly reads this site knows I do my homework.

      As for this being a “personal vendetta,” for some reason that’s what I hear about nearly every piece I’ve ever published.  It’s a cheap and dismissive statement commonly made by supporters and/or collaborators of those I’m writing about — it also fails to address the facts outlined in the articles.

      I’ve spoken with Steven Wetzel at length I believe just twice before I began investigating this story, once when I covered his pizza eating competition, and a second time at another charity event.  He was so pleased by my coverage of his fundraiser back then he republished it on his Hero Program website.

      I don’t believe I’ve ever met Brooks Canavesi and if I have it wasn’t a memorable encounter.  I wouldn’t know him if I saw him.

      The reality is simply this:  There are a lot of things that have gone on in this county for a very long time because no one wanted to be “the bad guy” who looked into it all.  It is not my job to be liked and it is not my job to be popular.  My job is to be accurate; it is a responsibility I take very seriously.  

      • With the exception of the foolish display of dull, willful ignorance in Mike Emerson’s comments, some of the comments here remind me of the responses in five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Perhaps it is because the topic deals with such a sensitive matter for personally dedicated people. At times, sacred cows also have to be examined, and the shock of the discoveries has to be expressed somewhere. For the nonbelievers or those who are just newly aware of the revelations, stay with this story, because there is much verifiable truth being revealed here, like it or not. John Paul is merely reporting it, not creating it. 

  9. Really you people have no idea about Hero program, and all the love and time spent here.  So what if athletes and others are involved all publicity helps the cause. it is heart wrenching to think people would try to tear this apart , All things will run the full circle, their is only one real authority and I’m pretty sure it is none of us!

  10. Strange, he might make some money from this, but I have seen the Hero program help a close friend first hand. If you want to look into crooked Non-Profits check out Medic Rescue/Fleet Service/Medic Rescue Health Care and see who’s pockets are getting lined and the lack of ambulances that paying members are getting

  11. JP, keep up the great work.  You are ruffling some feathers and stepping on toes.  Once again people who can’t handle the truth revert to “shooting the messenger”.  JP is reporting the facts, not his opinion, as far as I can tell.  Mike Emerson, if you have some sort of proof to support your claims, we sure would like to hear them.  I just don’[t understand the mindset of some in Beaver Co.  They take bad news about something IN the country as a personal attack.  

  12. @Mike Emerson, I’ll be damn, God has spoken on the Beaver Countian. Tell me, Are you always this stupid or are you making a special effort today? Speaking of fabrication conspired from a delusional mind (or would that be minds)? “The first Shitty Shitty Shame, Mike, is that a non profit-(for profits) used real life sick kids to create a fake cause to collect real life dollars. The second shitty shame Mike is you’re actually defending these pin head wheeler dealer weasels behind this mega multi scam.” All their non-profit- for profit- programs, businesses, etc, looks like a big bingo for dollars card. Maybe JP will discover 3, 6, or 9, more non-profit making profits next week? Good Work JP.    

  13. Marshamoore, maybe you have not heard anything negatively of “JP” because that’s not even his real name. You should get to know people before you blindly follow them.

    • You are assuming I have not done my research.  You are spewing inferences as to JP’s motives, please substantiate… if you can, that is.

    • There is PLENTY negative, you don’t have to search very hard for it, google is your friend. It doesn’t matter. When you ruffle feathers, you’re bound to gain a few detractors. Also, you DO realize that “JP” is short for John Paul, right, Mike?

  14. Why don’t you get a life the Hero program helps people in beaver county Steve is as honest as the day is long and we never heard of you before so stop spreading crap around because they do good mr beaver countian or comedian what ever you are trying to do maybe you never sat beside a child while he was dying from a cancer or saw a family suffer and not know how they can afford to drive to town and miss work to be with there child and then all the sudden some stranger by the name of Steve hands you a hand full of gas cards or giant eagle gift cards
    Back off
    If Steve has done anything wrong It was not on purpose maybe he is to busy doing good deeds rather than book keeping

  15. Shame on you! How many families has he helped. At least someone out there is willing to help. As u sit behind your computer? See one of their events.

  16. Thank you Jennifer keep fighting these liars
    The devil works in mysterious ways like the beaver countian comedian

  17. @Steve dugas @Jen Bathgate @ Mike Emerson

    Do you know how many gift cards where purchased?

    How many where pass through, that where donated not paid for.

    How many collected from Giant Eagle, they have records and so do some others.

    But more so let’s not bash the operator of this site he reporting facts and it raises questions , from current volunteers, former volunteers, contributors ect. For correct record keeping to ensure accountability.

    Our society sadly see people scammed Dailey, but let’s remember good has come from this program to help people, but once pay checks are drawn and expenses are paid for in a legal CHARITY then people can make question. The IRS had shut IT DOWN WHY?

  18. And maybe Steve was just running one avenue of this and was the victim cause one thing is clear that other charities that feel under the FRONT LINE LLC, SEEMS LITTLE AWRY to say the least, and blatant for profit business was established with charitable donations, funds and grants which isn’t allowed. Hence ummm PaCyber did great things then formed other non profits seen it was win fall of money formed for profit business to bilk cash flow after being warned of what and how anon profit could spend, then we all know what happen.

    What I have in question is when cost of salary, reimbursements, spending and operations become 80% of total funds and les than 20% actually go to charity that’s not a benefit to community just to those getting paid. And once again beaver county residents and businesses get good winked

  19. This is a sad state of affairs. Very sad. It makes other, trustworthy, non-for-profit organizations fall victim to skepticism and THAT is the real tragedy. There is no doubt in my mind that The Hero team has helped multiple families cope with life, financially and otherwise, however, the proof is in the paper trail. This organization was founded by athletes; Baseball players, no less. They should have known to cover their bases. My condolences. 

  20. So these douce bags made themselves a job that’s pretty obvious.

    But is the poker game still on, I say we just meet play and rake the pot and donate to charity ourselves fuck these scammers

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