Stephen Gibbons, Assistant District Attorney

Martha Donohoe, Deputy District Attorney
Consumer Protection Unit
(408) 792-2571   For release on December 10, 2004     DEFENDANTS FOUND GUILTY IN CHARITY FRAUD CASE   Three defendants, Armand J. Tiano, a former lieutenant in the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office,  Matthew B. Kellner, and George S. Kellner,  an attorney based in Contra Costa County, were found guilty of various felony charges in Santa Clara County’s largest-ever charity fraud case. The Kellners, who are brothers, operated Family Entertainment Group, a commercial fundraising business. The defendants were convicted for crimes related to their operation of a phony law enforcement organization called the “Santa Clara County Police and Sheriffs’ Athletic League,” and the “Deputy Sheriffs’ Athletic League,” which fraudulently raised over $3.5 million dollars from Bay Area donors. Tiano and Matt Kellner were convicted of conspiracy, grand theft, insurance fraud, embezzlement, perjury and tax fraud.  Tiano was also convicted of money laundering, George Kellner was convicted of tax fraud and perjury.  The defendants were convicted following a year-long jury trial.  Seven of their co-defendants pleaded guilty before trial.  The jury was unable to reach verdicts as to three defendants, Lovie Nicoletti, the mother of the Kellner brothers, Joseph Dagna, III, a telemarketing manager, and Lesa Stone, the ex-wife of Armond Tiano.   The guilty verdicts were the culmination of a multi-year investigation by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, the Franchise Tax Board, the Attorney General’s Office and the Employment Development Department.  Thirty donors testified during trial that they believed, when contacted by the defendants’ telemarketers, that they were being contacted by a law enforcement agency representative.  They further believed their contributions would be used to help underprivileged children and families and the family of a slain Millbrae police officer.  Many victim donors said they believed the callers were with a law enforcement agency because Armand Tiano was associated with the organizations and identified as a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Office.  In reality, contributors’ donations were primarily used to pay the defendants and their commercial fundraising staff.  Over $1.4 million of donor contributions were paid out of the defendant’s organization through untraceable cash payments.  Defendants and their staff did not report their income or pay taxes to taxing authorities such as the Franchise Tax Board and the Employment Development Department.  Of the over $3.5 million raised, less than $50,000 was used for charitable purposes.  It is estimated that over 50,000 Bay Area residents were victimized over a seven-year period between 1993 and 2000.   In addition to the charity fraud, Tiano and co-defendant Matthew B. Kellner were convicted of insurance fraud-related crimes.  Tiano and  Matt Kellner colluded to defraud an insurer claiming Tiano lost wages following an auto accident.  Tiano was also convicted of worker’s compensation insurance fraud.  He falsely claimed he had a disabling back injury from a work-related construction-site accident but was caught at the same time continuing to drive race cars in amateur racing events and participating in weightlifting competitions.   Sentencing is scheduled for February 18, 2005. Deputy District Attorneys Martha J. Donohoe and Stephen P. Lowney prosecuted the case. Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Paul Bernal presided over the case, which took a year to try. Defendants could be sentenced to up to 29 years in prison, and ordered to pay restitution exceeding $3.5 million dollars, and could be fined up to $10 million dollars.   The District Attorney’s Office acknowledges the assistance provided by the California Franchise Tax Board, California Employment Development Department, the California Attorney General’s Office, and area law enforcement agencies.   ###

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