I-Team investigates non-profit that provides police dog vests - WFSB 3 Connecticut

I-Team investigates non-profit that provides police dog vests

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MANCHESTER, CT. (WFSB) -

Raising money to supply police dogs with bulletproof vests sounds like a noble cause. But some people are raising questions about a non-profit organization doing just that.

Connecticut Vest a Dog was founded in 2003 by Christina Poryanda. It raises money to outfit police dogs with stab and bullet-proof vests. In the five years Poryanda has run the program, she says the group has furnished 55 police dogs with vests.

Phil Rothstein and his wife volunteered with Poryanda for about a year and a half until 2008.

"We were able to vest probably at least 20 dogs in that time that we were there," said Rothstein.

The cost of purchasing and training a police dog runs in the tens of thousands and bulletproof vests for the dogs are not standard issue.

While they can cost upwards of $2,000 depending on the model, it's an investment police officers like Tina Mazzocolli, an officer with the South Windsor police department, said it is well worth.

"The ballistics in the K9 vest prevents bullets from penetrating, as well as knives," she said.

"We thought we were doing a good thing as a family," said Rothstein.

A number of people tell the I-Team things seemed to change with the non-profit around 2008 when Mark Moran took charge.

"Once he took over, our free voluntary services were no longer required," Rothstein said.

Take the case of Mazzocolli and her dog Bobby. Even though there was an $850 donation given to fully fund a vest for her dog, the wait ended up being close to two years.

South Windsor Police Chief Matthew Reed says the vest manufacturer had to get involved.

"It's very frustrating. It's maddening and it makes you wonder," Reed said.

Then there's the case of Hartford Police K9 Roscoe.

Police sources tell the I-Team roughly six months ago, following a demonstration by Roscoe at Hartford's Sports and Medical Sciences Academy, students decided to raise money for a vest, and even though the full amount was given to Connecticut Vest-a-Dog, Roscoe still has no vest.

The I-Team tried speaking with Moran at the Finest and Bravest, the police and fire department supply business he owns in Manchester, but he wasn't interested.

Moran told the I-Team Poryanda is still in charge of the Connecticut Vest-a-dog bank account. Poryanda, who now lives in Maine, said she left the organization in 2008 after the birth of her first child.

The Internal Revenue-recommended website for non profits, Guidestar.org, lists Moran as Connecticut Vest-a-Dog's executive director.

And in a pair of emails the Rothsteins shared with the I-team, Moran identified himself as Connecticut Vest-a-Dog's president and owner.

Moran does acknowledge he has a lead role in the organization but also said that while Connecticut Vest-a-Dog has collected funds the past few years, it has not purchased vests.

Moran tells the I-Team the manufacturer, Point Blank, has been in bankruptcy and he's concerned it will not be able to honor warranties on the vests. But the I-Team has learned that Point Blank has emerged from bankruptcy.

While he didn't say a lot on camera, Moran seems to have an explanation for all his organization's actions.

Last month the I-Team found Connecticut Vest-a-Dog asking for donations at the Connecticut Pet Expo, and the group was handing out brochures saying it is a 501c3 non-profit.

Yet according Guidestar.org, the IRS revoked the group's 501c3 status for failing to fill out any federal tax paperwork the past three years. Because of that revocation, the I-Team can't tell you how much he's collected for the charity, or if he's purchased any dog vests.

Moran told the I-Team off camera he is not responsible for filing the group's federal tax returns, and knows nothing about its 501c3 status being revoked, even though he is listed as Connecticut Vest-a-Dog's executive director on the Guidestar website.

Moran may have to eventually answer to the IRS.

The I-team asked police who were waiting for the vests why they did not pursue legal action against Moran, and they said since the donations were not accepted in their jurisdiction there is a question of who would enforce whatever laws may have been broken.

Police add that in many, but not all cases, departments will take donations for something like a K9 vest, instead of having to go through an organization.

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