How can a complaint be filed?
Citizens can file complaints in multiple ways. Complaints can be submitted online through the Ohio Attorney General’s website, a form can be printed off the website and mailed in, or a complaint can be made by phone by calling the Ohio Attorney General’s Help Center at 800-282-0515.
What should be included in a complaint?
Providing as much information as possible helps investigators better understand the nature of the complaint and underlying activity. Complaints should contain information about what happened, who was involved, and the time and location at which activities occurred. Including copies of solicitations, canceled checks, correspondence, and other documents is helpful.
Can an anonymous complaint be submitted?
Some people choose to submit complaints without including their names or contact information. Anonymous complaints are permitted, and may still result in an investigation; however, including contact information in a complaint is helpful in aiding the resulting investigation.
Are complaints confidential?
Under Ohio’s public records statute, complaints filed with the Charitable Law Section are public records that must be disclosed when requested.
Can I request a copy of a complaint filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section?
Yes. Requests for copies of complaints can be made by asking for them in any manner that the requester chooses. It can be done by phone, in person, or by email or letter; see Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Section 149.43(B)(5). Most complaints filed with the Charitable Law Section are public records, and the office will provide a response by either producing the requested records or sending a written explanation as to why no records are being produced.
Will I find out what happens with the investigation of my complaint and whether action is taken?
Probably not. Under Ohio law, investigations of charities are confidential and it may not be possible to provide information to the complainant; see ORC 109.28. This law encourages witnesses to come forward with information and to cooperate with the investigation. Staff investigators or lawyers may get in touch with the complainant if additional information is needed. Complainants will receive a written acknowledgement from the office confirming receipt of the complaint. While a complainant may or may not know the outcome, be assured that each complaint is closely analyzed and greatly appreciated.
What happens when the Ohio Attorney General's Charitable Law Section receives a complaint?
Each complaint received by the office is closely evaluated to determine if the issue addresses a matter related to the misuse of charitable assets, fraud or other matters that the Charitable Law Section handles. Sometimes the issue may be referred to other agencies for action.
When the office determines that the actions described within a complaint fall within the Charitable Law Section’s authority, a variety of steps may be taken. In some situations, the office can decide to utilize its investigatory powers to review finances and documents, interview witnesses, and make an evaluation as to whether the law has been violated.
What options does the Ohio Attorney General have in responding to complaints?
The Ohio Attorney General has broad authority in providing oversight to the charitable sector. If the office’s investigation reveals that a charity, person or other entity has violated the law, the attorney general has authority to bring civil lawsuits seeking the recovery of funds that should have been used for charitable purposes, to request that the court award civil penalties, or to ask the court to award injunctive relief like prohibiting a person from incorporating nonprofits in the future.
The office can also assist criminal prosecutions involving charitable assets. Sometimes the office also cooperates with actions taken by the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Trade Commission, or other agencies whose responsibilities involve dealing with charities.
Not all investigations result in litigation or criminal prosecution. The office has discretion to negotiate with the involved individuals and entities. Sometimes these negotiations result in financial settlements or promises to stop particular activities or both. Other times, these negotiations may result in closely working with an organization to ensure that it adopts appropriate governance and oversight practices.
While investigations and enforcement actions are important tools for the Charitable Law Section, prevention is equally important, if not more important. For that reason, the section provides regular training programs aimed at helping nonprofits establish policies and practices that reduce the likelihood of problems. Proactive prevention reduces the possibility that citizens are victimized and helps protect charitable assets in the long run.
What types of complaints might get referred to other agencies?
When your complaint would be more appropriately handled by a different state or local agency, we will forward the complaint to that agency. The Charitable Law Section receives many complaints about alleged gambling activities, and those complaints are routinely referred to local law enforcement agencies, which have the authority to enforce gambling laws.
Some complaints about whether purchased services or items were acceptable might be appropriate for the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section. Calling the attorney general’s office at 800-282-0515 can direct citizens to resources in that area.