Texas Rangers should investigate nonprofit

Feb. 24, 2018 at 8:42 p.m.
Updated Feb. 25, 2018 at 11:46 a.m.

A web of businesses, some claiming to be nonprofits, is operating in Victoria County, preying on poor residents.

One of the names it goes by is ALMS, which is associated with at least 130 properties in Victoria County. The owners of this so-called nonprofit are not known, and it is secretive about whom it claims to help.

It's alarming and disturbing that an operation of such a huge scale should be able to hide from all levels of accountability.

The company is one of thousands of shell companies operating in the United States. The companies are created to hide the owners' identities and often their actual purposes.

It's a national disgrace that shell companies are legal in the United States. Some operate legitimate businesses, but the majority use the companies as fronts for illegal activities.

A bipartisan bill to crack down on shell companies remains stalled in Congress. Lawmakers who introduced the measure in 2017 argued it was needed to give authorities a much easier time tracking down the drug dealers, terrorists and others who use anonymous shell companies to hide their illicit money.

A special Victoria Advocate investigative report showed ALMS and another supposed nonprofit, Volunteers of Victoria, reported revenue of more than $40 million during the past decade from operating rental properties targeted at the poor. The nonprofits' tax forms claimed they provided $17.5 million in free and low-income housing.

However, Crossroads housing advocates say they have seen no evidence of any such assistance being provided.

Clearly, the IRS and the Texas Rangers need to investigate. The public deserves to know whether these supposed nonprofits offered home, food and clothing to the poor and downtrodden.

Victoria County has battled with these companies for many years. In 2017, the companies owed a half-million dollars in delinquent taxes. When the county sued one company, it would transfer the property to a new owner.

The list of red flags goes on for a while.

And this is just what the Advocate has been able to uncover in Victoria County. Imagine what shell companies are doing across the country. The amount of money at stake could reach into the billions.

Transparency advocates have been working for years to get laws changed that would force these companies to be more forthcoming in ownership and company mission.

Legislation was introduced in Congress last summer asking for just that. Unfortunately, the bill remains in the House's Financial Services Committee, where it has been since the day it was introduced in June.

White-collar crime shouldn't be swept under the carpet while poor people suffer from unscrupulous business practices.

"I think if you profit from another person's misfortune, then there's a question about the morality," said Victoria County District Attorney Stephen Tyler. "If you are receiving tax benefits that you are not due, that's a form of fraud."

Tyler says this sort of crime is outside the expertise of his office, but the public should contact their elected officials and demand they request a Texas Rangers investigation. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers need to close the huge loophole that allows this activity to go on under the cover of darkness.

The poor people being used as pawns in the shell game deserve better. The United States must be better than this.

This opinion reflects the views of the VictoriaAdvocate's editorial board.



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