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Florida demands Largo anti-bullying nonprofit to stop fundraising

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A Largo anti-bullying nonprofit is under fire by the state of Florida, demanding it stops fundraising after its solicitation license lapsed.

On the Gulf Coast Giving website, the charity — incorporated in 2009 by Nick Foley of Largo – had said its “main mission is to provide underserved schools and nonprofits with updated technology and training to maximize their efforts; and to provide cyberbullying awareness, prevention and intervention programs to secure a brighter future for our community’s youth.” Gulf Coast promises to donate a portion of its fundraising proceeds to groups such as Habitat for Humanity, the Clearwater Seaquarium, Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, Cornerstone Campus Ministry and others.

 As recently as last week, however, the website still included a ‘Donate Now’ button and a ‘Giving’ menu selection. On Monday, the website has been taken down.

As of Sept. 23, 2016, the Florida Division of Corporations had dissolved Gulf Coast Giving for failing to file an annual report. Charities in Florida cannot solicit funds unless registered with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In the 2015 report, Gulf Coast listed three directors and/or officers: Foley, Anthony Foley and Paul J. Burns. Jessica Moody-Shafer is listed as operations manager.

Gulf Coast, located at 12597 Walsingham Rd #2 in Largo, claims it had established a partnership with the City of St. Petersburg and Mayor Rick Kriseman to screen the documentary “Bully” and host a discussion about bullying. Allegedly attached to the event were boxer Winky Wright, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway.

In a 2013 article in the Tampa Bay Times, Gulf Coast – described as a group that “promotes volunteer work” – organized a bully-awareness week at local schools.

However, after Gulf Coast Giving allowed its registration to lapse, FDACS filed a complaint about illegally soliciting contributions. In an order issued Aug. 16, the department demanded Gulf Coast to stop seeking donations and pay a $500 fine. A lawsuit filed by the state in Pinellas County Circuit Court Jan. 5 says the Gulf Coast has done neither and is asking the court to intervene.

The home page of Gulf Coast Giving. As of 1/11/2017, the website still included a ‘Donate Now’ button. Image courtesy of BayLawsuits.com

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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