Concerns Raised Over “Find Lisa Irwin” Website Fundraising

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KANSAS CITY --   It's been more than a year since Lisa Irwin disappeared from her Northland home. Despite the offer of a $100,000 reward, a separate Lisa Irwin organization is now soliciting donations from the public - and some are questioning why the fundraising is necessary.

The "Find Lisa Irwin" website claims all the donations will be used to raise awareness and to bring Lisa home. But this foundation is not registered with the Missouri Secretary of State. The communications director for that office says because it's not registered, the state doesn't know if it's a legitimate nonprofit organization.

On the official Lisa Irwin website there's now a donate button where you can make a contribution through Pay Pal to the Lisa Irwin Hope Foundation. The site claims donations also are accepted at any Wells Fargo branch.  The solicitation suggests money will be used to print and mail flyers, and produce bracelets, shirts and bumper stickers.

But on Facebook groups dedicated to the Irwin case, many are questioning this fundraising. One woman writes: "Lisa Irwin is a victim, not a brand. Those parents are shameful."

Cherri West and her family have benefited first-hand from the generosity of others. After her daughter, Pamela Butler, was kidnapped and murdered 13 years ago, Kansas Citians opened up their hearts and wallets, donating more than $100,000 to a fund for West's family.

"You should know who set it up, and who has control over it," West said. She's thankful that donors made the fund into a trust, with volunteers serving as trustees to guide her on how the money should be spent.

"When you have it like that. you just have all kinds of people who come out, need help, want you to help them," West said. "And if I could, I would. But I didn't have control of that. it was set up through a trust and a trust said this is how that will work."

Instead of giving money to others who wanted it, West says she was able to buy a home, furnish it and recevie an allowance every 6 months to buy clothes for her two surviving daughters. When the youngest girl turned 21, the remaining trust funds were split three ways. One daughter used the money to purchase a home, another to buy a car, and west says she used her share to pay bills.

But she shudders to think what would have happened if there were not strict rules governing her fund.

"Just be careful what you're donating to," West said. "If it's not trusted, don't do it. People can so easily be taken advantage of."

FOX 4 News talked with the woman who established the account for the Lisa Irwin Hope Foundation. She is Kathleen Costas, a cousin of Lisa's mother, Deborah Bradley. Costas, who lives in Florida, says the account is a special taxable fund established through Wells Fargo. Costas oversees all spending from the account.

She assured FOX4 News it's not going to be used for the family's normal day-to-day living expenses, calling the criticism of the fund: "Total Facebook gossip."

Costas says it will only be used to pay for bumper stickers, flyers and other materials used in the family's search for Lisa Irwin.

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