AG Bob Ferguson files lawsuit against local foundation, founder

In this Feb. 9, 2017, file photo, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a news conference in Seattle, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court on Tuesday against the Holiday Treasure Chest Charity Foundation and its founder, Mark Bergeson.

The lawsuit accuses Bergeson of withdrawing more than $280,000 from the charity's checking account and using it for personal purchases.

"Account records show thousands of dollars in purchases for fuel, groceries and meals as well as cell phone, cable and internet bills. Account records also show Bergeson used the charity's account to pay for a resort stay in Friday Harbor and a hotel room in Ocean Shores. A subscription to online dating service Match.com was paid for with charity account funds," Ferguson's office said in a news release. 

Holiday Treasure Chest was created in 2008 as the charity arm of the Seattle Seafair Pirates. The organizations split in 2013.

A dispute between the two organizations in 2013 resulted in a settlement that prohibited the Holiday Treasure Chest Foundation from using the “Seafair Pirates” name and from soliciting on the Pirates' behalf.

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Ferguson’s lawsuit does not name the Seafair Pirates as a party.

"Charities exist to help those in need, not to enrich the people running them," Ferguson said.

"Washingtonians thought their donations were helping kids during the holidays, not lining the pockets of those who run this so-called charity."

Ferguson's lawsuit accuses Bergeson of selling toys, electronics and other items contributed to the Holiday Treasure Chest Charity Foundation on online auction sites. While the online listings claimed that "100% of the sale of this item will benefit Pirates Charity Foundation," Ferguson's lawsuit contends that "Holiday Treasure Chest did not keep an accounting of the auction sale proceeds."

In a separate lawsuit filed earlier in 2018, Ferguson sued Bergeson, Holiday Treasure Chest and Maryfest Inc. over “a previously secret agreement banning former Maryfest board members and promising $175,000 to Bergeson after he resigned if certain conditions were not met.”

The current lawsuit accuses Bergeson and Holiday Treasure Chest of multiple violations of the Charitable Solicitations Act, Charitable Trust Act and the Consumer Protection Act. In addition, the lawsuit seeks to "dissolve the charity and bar Bergeson from registering or operating a non-profit or charity, or soliciting charitable donations of any kind in the future," according to a news release.

The Charitable Solicitations Act and the Charitable Trust Acts prohibit charitable organizations from using donated funds in a manner contrary to their charitable purpose, or from making false or misleading statements during their solicitations.