CINCINNATI — Jim Chandler is proud his family stepped up to help children.
"We have been giving to the Greater Cincinnati Police Athletic Association for about 20 years and thought we were really helping the police, but also needy children," he said,
Now, Chandler knows investigators think a man collecting money for the Greater Cincinnati Police Athletic Association was actually stealing it.
A Hamilton County grand jury on Tuesday indicted the man accused of stealing money that he solicited under the guise of raising money for a "Shop with a Cop" program.
Jerry Hinkle, 67, is facing charges of theft, telecommunications fraud, securing writings by deception and theft from an elderly person or disabled adult.
Hinkle was arrested last week on charges of just theft and telecommunications fraud. Authorities said thousands of people were duped into giving money to Hinkle or his associates, thinking they were helping children in need.
Some of the money Hinkle collected over the years did go to fund the area's "Shop with a Cop" program, which abruptly ended last December.
"We built up a trust with Jerry and thought our money was going to a worthy cause," Chandler said.
By this past spring, the state had shut down the police athletic association. It's founder, a former police officer named Tim Mercurio, signed a document from the Ohio Attorney General's Office stating he and the organization committed fraud, but also that he denies the claims.
Investigators with the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office said Hinkle worked for Mercurio.
"I think they were at least partners, and Mercurio's coming next," Prosecutor Joe Deters said. "I don't know what the grand jury will do, but he's coming next."
The IRS revoked the group's federal nonprofit status in 2010.
"They just lied," Deters said. "It's total fraud. That's what they did."
After the nonprofit shuttered last year, investigators said Hinkle continued collecting donations on its behalf. Court records show Hinkle collected up to $150,000 from people like Chandler so far this year.
"They tell people it's for kids," Deters said. "They tell people it's to help the police, and they just stole the money."
Hinkle told investigators he spent the money on drugs and gambling.
Surprisingly, Chandler isn't angry.
"I really feel sorry that someone is really leading that type of lifestyle, and just hope that he gets the help that he needs," Chandler said.
If convicted, Hinkle faces at least a decade in prison.
Mike Allen, an attorney for Mercurio, said his client denies any wrongdoing.
Deters said anyone considering donating money to a charity should look the group up on the attorney general's website and search for complaints.