Ticket buyers say it seemed like a chance of a lifetime: Enter a raffle for a million-dollar home and possibly win while helping children with cancer.
A One & Only investigation, however, has uncovered serious questions about exactly what was won.
"The grand prize was a house," one ticket buyer said, "enough to get anyone's interest."
Back in December 2013, Peter Kelly even appeared on the Local 10 morning show to promote the raffle for a $2.1-million, six bedroom, six-and-a-half bath waterfront home in Lighthouse Point, Florida. Tickets were $80.
"That's when I first heard about it," a man who did not wish to be identified told Local 10. He wound up buying five tickets. "Help them out and hopefully win a new house!" he said. As the drawing drew near, however, he said his hope faded.
"I feel we all got taken," he said. He explained that his suspicion began when the end of the raffle never seemed to come. "Just kinda watched the calendar tick by." He then showed Local 10 an email saying that the raffle would be extended 90 days.
"What went through your mind?" Investigative Reporter Ross Palombo asked.
"That's when a little light went off and I started getting suspicious."
Questions were also raised on Facebook. "Does anyone know if the raffle was held?" one woman posted. "I did call the charity and didn't get a whole lot of response from them," a ticket holder said.
A winner did eventually appear online named "Emily Hubler," but apparently she didn't get the house. At least, not yet.
"I'm from Channel 10," Palombo said as he spoke with the man who actually owns the Lighthouse Point home. Broward County property records confirm Anthony Fiorello is the listed homeowner. "So, you're raffling off the house for charity?" Palombo asked. Fiorello said he agreed to sell it, but the charity hadn't bought it.
Local 10 then tried to speak with the man who first appeared to promote the raffle on TV. Peter Kelly, though, said he no longer speaks for the charity. Just days earlier, however, he did leave a voicemail announcing, "This is Peter Kelly calling you from American Children's Cancer Association." When Investigative reporter Ross Palombo went to speak with him in person, Kelly said, "Yeah, already called you last week, got no interest, man."
Now, though, the Florida Attorney General has some interest in the raffle. It has issued a subpoena to Kelly and the charity saying that it is investigating under the "Unfair Trade Practices… Solicitation of Funds…. [and] Gambling Acts."
"What's going on, I understand you just got this subpoena today?" Palombo asked Kelly.
"Yeah. Anyway... Good Day!" he said as he shut his front door.
"What's going on with the raffle, sir?" Palombo asked through the door. "Are you scamming these people?" There was no reply.
According to the raffle web site, The American Children's Cancer Association is based in New Jersey. Google Maps shows the listed address as what appears to be a home in quiet neighborhood. The IRS does have it listed as an official 501c3 charity. On the website foundationcenter.org, Local 10 was able to find several tax returns. The most current one was from 2012. It appears to show that the charities assets totaled -$17. The person who signed that return is listed as Shaun Hussein. When Local 10 contacted him, he said he no longer works for the charity, but still volunteers.
Hussein said that the charity only sold 298 raffle tickets that were worth just under $24,000. He explained that, in the end, the charity simply could not afford to buy the expensive Lighthouse Point home.
"Does that sound like a good excuse?" Palombo asked one ticket holder.
"Sad excuse," he said. "It starts to smell fishy when you put the pieces together."
In the end, he said the biggest fish caught up in this may be the children themselves. He added that this raffle could possible effect other charities fishing for donors in the future.
"It's a black eye for all charities," the ticket holder said, "makes the people who are going to give money a little more skeptical."
That same ticket buyer did win an "early bird" prize of $500, but said he still wants his money back for the five raffle tickets he bought trying to win the house.
The attorney general said it is still looking into all of this, but hasn't decided whether any laws were actually broken.
Even though the charity said it took in about $24,000, Hussein told Local 10 they did award the grand prize winner "around" half of that money instead of the home, as their rules specified. He also said accidental mistakes may have been made, but that the charity tried to comply with all laws.