Donors raised questions about what happened to the money they donated to Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., intended for a child burial garden, according to local news outlet WTVF.
Ogles, a freshman congressman who drew comparisons to disgraced Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., after he was caught inflating his resume, now faces questions related to a GoFundMe fundraiser he held following the stillborn death of his child in 2014.
The GoFundMe was intended for a child burial garden called “Lincoln’s Place.”
“Help us help other families. No family should have to bury their child; no child should be alone,” the GoFundMe page said, vowing to use the funds raised for a “burial garden” that would “create a place for Lincoln’s new play friends,” “a life-size statue of Jesus watching over the children,” and “benches for families to sit while surrounded by flowers.”
Donors contributed $23,375 to the fundraiser, which GoFundMe confirmed went to Ogles.
One donor told WTVF that she wanted “to believe that that money went for something good” but was left with “gnawing questions about what happened to these funds.”
Ogles in 2015 told The Tennessean that none of the money had been spent, blaming government bureaucracy.
“What we found over the past year as we have been going through this process is that burials are heavily regulated,” he said at the time.
But WFTV found that “there is no evidence that any government regulation would have prevented the purchase of several cemetery plots for burying children.”
Williamson Memorial Funeral Home director Pam Stephens told The Tennessean in 2015 that she planned to meet with the Ogles family to “help organize a unified effort to aid parents dealing with the financial and emotional trauma of burying children.”
But Stephens told WFTV eight years later that Ogles never followed up.
“Back at that time, we could have helped them do something, but they never came back to us,” Stephens told the outlet.
Donors have raised questions about what happened with the money. One donor told the outlet that he demanded and received his money back after Ogles failed to provide a straight answer. But other donors said they were not given the option.
“Tell us what you did!” one donor who spoke with WFTV demanded of Ogles. “Tell us where the money went!”
WFTV reporter Phil Williams likened the questions about the fundraiser to those about another GoFundMe campaign by Santos, who was accused of swindling $3,000 meant to help save a disabled vet’s dying dog.
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Williams pressed Ogles on the questions outside of a recent political event.
“What did you do with the money that people donated for Lincoln’s Place?” Williams asked Ogles, who ignored the question.
“Congressman, this doesn’t have to be a story if you just offer some evidence it went for a good cause,” Williams pressed before Ogles got into a truck and slammed the door.
After the story was published, Williams called out Ogles for issuing a statement “portraying himself as the victim” after refusing to respond to donors’ questions.
Ogles in the statement said that he and his wife were the largest donors to the GoFundMe campaign, followed by his family and friends, but were unable to raise enough for “our original goal of a more significant memorial.”
Ogles claimed that the “purpose evolved from a memorial to direct financial support for families covering the cost of funeral expenses and other needs for their children as opportunities to help arose.”
The statement quoted Andy Miller, who gave $2,500 to the campaign, saying that Ogles “has used that money and the other donations received to assist families in the community and honor Lincoln’s life.”
Ogles also criticized Williams for following up on questions raised by donors to the campaign.
“I knew politics could be ruthless, but I never expected it to sink to such disgusting lows as to have a reporter calling around to my close friends asking about the death and burial site of our beloved son, Lincoln, and to question our giving in his honor,” Ogles said. “The smear campaign and muckraking against me is one thing, but questions about my son have crossed the line, and I will not tolerate it,” he added. “Exploiting the death of any child in an attempt to gain some sort of journalistic fame is vile.”
Williams responded by calling out Ogles for failing to provide any evidence that he used donor funds for a good cause.
“He offers no proof,” Williams tweeted, challenging the congressman to “release the records.”
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Source : https://www.salon.com/2023/03/16/donors-gave-23k-to-goper-for-child-burial-garden-demand-he-tell-us-where-the-money-went/