New developments in a WINK News investigation. Thanks to our investigative reporting, the Hurricane Ian benefit concert scheduled for September 21, 2023, at Hertz Arena is under investigation. The storm hit Southwest Florida September 28, 2022.
I sent my story to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to request they look into event organizer Joe Knopp, his Disaster Relief Benefit website, and the concert he organized, with Christian performers MercyMe and Matthew West. As a result, the LCSO Economic Crimes Unit is investigating.
But that’s not all.
The National Christian Foundation, the 501(c) (3) that was planning to collect and distribute the proceeds of the event backed out. After reaching out to them for weeks to discuss the concert, the Christian charity finally responded.
In a statement, NCF said they “Hold themselves to high standards of integrity and transparency in fundraising.” They added, “It became clear that important questions could not be answered prior to the event occurring. As a result, we have made the difficult decision to no longer participate.”
In that statement, the NCF spokesperson didn’t say what questions they couldn’t get answered. Our questions were answered by Knopp. In my one-on-one interview, he admitted the proceeds were going to his personal entertainment company in Ohio.
“The sponsor money and the ticket sales go to my for-profit production company because we had to work with a for-profit company and did not have time to, you know, start a new one specifically for the event,” said Knopp.
NCF told me the money already collected will go to a nonprofit out of Georgia called Inspiritus, which offers disaster relief services. NCF didn’t say why they were selected or how much money they’re getting.
I reached out to Attorney General Ashley Moody. Her office tells me the findings in our report are “concerning” and they’re going to reach out to Knopp. I’ll let you know what happens.
In the meantime, I’ve been reaching out to our elected leaders for reaction.
United States Congressman Byron Donalds sent a statement saying in part, “Anyone using a tragedy to line their pockets through unconscionable, deceptive, or unfair practices should and will be called to the carpet and prosecuted under Florida law. My office is aware of the allegations related to the Disaster Relief Benefit and encourages concerned citizens to submit a consumer complaint through the office of Attorney General Ashley Moody.”
I called Knopp to get a reaction. He has not returned my call. I reached out to Hertz Arena leadership and the performers to see if the concert is still a go. So far no response, but I will stay on top of this. As of Tuesday, Ticketmaster is still selling tickets to the concert.
The National Christian Foundation responded to my request about the money it collected from Disaster Relief Benefit:
“The grant to Inspiritus totals $2600, which represents all funds donated through the event’s website prior to Sunday, September 10th. Inspiritus was selected because they met three criteria: They are 1) a vetted nonprofit organization, 2) actively conducting Hurricane Ian relief efforts in Florida and 3) identified by event organizers to receive funds raised through the event,” said Mary Beth Googasian, Vice President, NCF Public Relations and Corporate Communications.
I asked NCF about the proceeds from the concert ticket sales.
“NCF was not involved in ticket sales and no proceeds from ticket sales had been deposited into the fund prior to NCF ending its participation. Any questions about ticket sales or proceeds from ticket sales are best addressed to the event organizers,” said Googasian.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to share your thoughts on the investigation.