Monday, November 25, 2013

Why did actor David Hasselhoff lie to me about his role with a shady Chicago nonprofit now under investigation for "possible $9m misappropriation"? [UPDATE: I tweeted The Hoff]

 This summer I reported a few items based on claims made to me by actor David Hasselhoff.

According to newly-available documents, it looks like The Hoff lied to me.

And he's not responding to my follow-ups.

The tale began last summer when I asked Hasselhoff's press agent, Judy Katz, about her client's relationship with the Save-A-Life Foundation, a once high-profile, politically-connected Chicago nonprofit that's been the subject of dozens of media exposes and which has reportedly been under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Trust Bureau since 2010. (Last week the AG's office confirmed to me that the investigation is ongoing.)

Via Illinois senator seeks answers on possible $9 million misappropriation, a June 26, 2013 Dubuque Telegraph Herald article by Erin Murphy:
(The Save a Life Foundation) received nearly $9 million in state and federal funding for a program whose services, it appears, were never rendered.
Since its establishment in 1993, (SALF) pledged to teach school children first aid and emergency response practices...(However), very few records of students being taught have been found.
From 1993 to at least 2000, in grant applications, fundraising materials, and media reports, SALF claimed that Hasselhoff was the group's "Honorary Chairman of the Board" and actively supported the group's mission.

As reported by ABC7 Chicago and other media outlets, SALF used a variety of bogus claims to gin up millions in public and private dollars, so I wanted to find out if they also lied about the Baywatch star's affiliation.

The only records I had that originated from Hasselhoff were a signed June 30, 1995 rah-rah letter on Baywatch stationary to SALF's founder/president Carol Spizzirri and this 1993 PSA:

I sent his press agent these and other documents that originated from SALF, along with news articles in which Hasselhoff is identified as SALF's "Honorary Chairman" and was an enthusiastic booster of the organization.

Via her July 15 reply:
I was able to reach Mr. Hasselhoff over the weekend. He's currently out of the country working in UK on his way to Austria but I had told him of your pending deadline today.

He was never SALF's Honorary Chairman. He never had any financial relationship with SALF. He never had any personal contact with SALF. They had requested, through the production office at Baywatch, for David to do a psa about saving lives back in the 1990's while he was starring on Baywatch. The letter you sent me was prepared and written by someone in the Baywatch production office around the same time.

I hope this information is helpful to you.


Re: "He never had any personal contact with SALF," about a week after I blogged the story on July 23, this turned up on Spizzirri's Facebook:

Who knew that Spizzirri -- who now lives in a mobile home park in San Marcos, CA, according to the jaw-dropping article Where Did the Save-A-Life Money Go? --  reads my blog? In any event, I appreciated her uploading the photo.

But rubbing elbows with Hasselhoff on the Baywatch set doesn't amount to much and in a follow-up, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Based on his word, I even tried (unsuccessfully) to obtain a published correction from the Chicago Tribune, which over the years had run three articles that reported the SALF/Hoff relationship.

But a couple of documents I've since obtained via a FOIA request suggest his word ain't worth much.

This comes from a letter included in the program for a November 11, 1999 fundraising dinner at which SALF awards were presented to my father and to IL Secretary of State Jesse White:

In this video of a SALF awards ceremony at a Chicago school, the January 28, 1999 letter below is read aloud by White with Spizzirri and former Chicago School CEO Paul Vallas on hand:

I shared the new information with his press agent and asked for a response.

Three weeks ago I received:
From: Judy Katz
Subject: Re: media inquiry
Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2013 14:02:23 -0500
To: Peter Heimlich

Dear Peter:

David is currently in Abi [sic] Dhabi but should be back in the states by the weekend.  I am not able to reach him until then...probably Monday.  I can discuss it with him then.


Judy Katz
Katz PR
250 W.57th Street Suite 1218
New York, NY 10107
O: 212-489-5595
C: 201-788-3331
I've sent several follow-ups, but no further replies. If I ever get one, I'll publish it.

Finally, a couple of personal notes.

To David Hasselhoff: I don't like my blog being used to circulate lies.

To Carol Spizzirri: If you have any more documents or photos re: The Hoff, Jesse White, Paul Vallas, or other VIPs who were involved with SALF, would you please post them or e-mail them to me?