Terri Schiavo's Family Profiting From Foundation

3:37 PM, Apr 30, 2010   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida (WTSP) -- They sang, they protested, they prayed.

All for Terri Schiavo, who was in the middle of a right-to-die battle in 2005 while supporters of Terri Schiavo's parents, brother and sister refused to give up hope, saying she was alert and fighting for her life.

However, doctors determined the woman was in a permanent vegetative state. Despite appeals to President George W. Bush, and his brother, then Florida's Governor Jeb Bush, Congress and the courts decided that once her feeding tube was removed it would stay that way. After being on a feeding tube for more than a decade, two weeks after it was removed, Terri Schiavo died March 31, 2005.

Now more than five years after Terri Schiavo died at the hospice that was the scene of protests, lawsuits and even Congressional action, her family is still working to keep her name alive, but according to IRS records obtained by our sister station in Tampa, the Schiavo family are also profiting off of her name.

Schiavo's widower, Michael Schiavo, says the family should be ashamed of what they are doing. He adds if Terri ever knew this was happening she'd be horrified. Michael Schiavo is talking about the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation.  While Terri Schiavo's brother Bobby says the organization is set up to help families in similar situations, Michael Schiavo says he doesn't believe it. Instead Schiavo says they are using their deceased sister's name to make money.

In most recent IRS report that the Foundation filed for 2008, it shows the foundation took in $91,568 and paid Terri's dad Robert Schindler Sr., her brother Robert Jr. and her sister Suzanne Vitadamo $59,275, or 64% of the money they raised.

READ: Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation 990 Tax Forms
Charity Navigator a respected Charity Rating organization says any charity spending more than 30 percent on salaries gets a zero rating. The foundation doesn't come close.

In the meantime, since the report was filed, the salaries have increased to $80,000 a year, but the Foundation says one salary is in arrears causing some family members to work without pay. Also since the IRS report was filed and Terri Schiavo's father died.

We stopped in to talk to Schindler's siblings after they referred us to their attorney David Gibbs, who first told us he would set up a meeting but then said there were scheduling problems. When we found both Bobby Schindler and Suzanne Vitadamo in the office, we were told they weren't available. That's when Bobby Schindler said we should direct our inquires to their attorney, Gibbs. Schindler said they just would rather work it that way.

Schindler didn't tell us anything, including how the organization spent $34,000 more than it collected in 2008; about the money it raised from a concert with country stars  Randy Travis and Colin Ray,  why as it told the IRS, the Foundation doesn't have a conflict of interest policy; and why it is using the name Terri Schiavo. A court document gives Michael Schiavo intangible rights to his wife's name.

Michael Schiavo says that means no one can use Terri Schiavo's name without him granting permission. He says he did that to protect anyone from exploiting Terri Schiavo name and now he has sent a letter telling the Foundation it is in violation of Florida law, and adds that it is unfortunate he has to do that or warn them they are making money off their deceased sisters to support their lives.

READ: Letter from Michael Schiavo's attorney

Meantime the Foundation's Attorney, David Gibbs sent us this letter saying "they are shocked and disappointed we would participate in attacking the organization under the guise of investigative reporting." Without seeing our story, Gibbs says "our attack on this well-respected foundation is unfounded and unjustified." Meantime Terri Schiavo's siblings won't answer any questions on camera.

READ: Letter from the Schindlers Attorney

And while they're not talking are making thousands of dollars from a foundation named after their sister who died embroiled in controversy and whose name continues to live in controversy five years later.

The attorney for the foundation maintains the high percentage of revenue going to salaries is because of the lack of money the foundation raises. Gibbs says the Schindlers are doing their non-profit work cost effectively and it should be viewed as an accomplishment. The Foundation also says the use of Terri Schiavo's name is proper because she is a public figure, and that Michael Schiavo has no right to challenge them.


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WTSP-TV, Tampa

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