Save-A-Life's main government funding may be drying up
May 30, 2007 (WLS) -- New details emerge about the embattled Illinois charity The Save-A-Life Foundation -- and why it may be losing funding and political support.
The I-Team investigation of Save-A-Life last year uncovered a founder who fabricated her medical credentials. Now we've learned that Save-A-Life's primary government bankroll appears to be drying up.
The Save-A-Life Foundation claims its instructors have taught first aid skills to more than 2 million school children in Illinois and several other states the past decade. Since 2001, Save-A-Life has received millions of dollars in state and federal funding, and has listed powerful State Senate President Emil Jones as one of its major backers.
"I've never supported it funding-wise," Jones said.
And Jones says the charity is not currently slated to receive money in next year's state budget. The apparent cut-off of government funds follows I-Team disclosures about Save-A-Life founder Carol Spizzirri.
For years, while soliciting government funding, Spizzirri claimed to be a kidney transplant nurse and an RN. The I-Team's investigation found that the now-defunct college she attended never awarded her a degree of any kind; and government records show she has never been a registered nurse in either Wisconsin, as she told the I-Team, or in Illinois. During questioning last November, Spizzirri walked out of our meeting and declined to be interviewed for this report.
Over the past few years in Springfield, State Senator Donne Trotter has been the primary sponsor of funding for Save-A-Life in the Illinois budget, last year $700,000 in taxpayer funds and another $88,000 in grant money.
"I am concerned if in fact that she is not spending the taxpayer dollars we have entrusted in her to be spent correctly," said Trotter.
The South Side senator says that Illinois' auditor general would investigate how Save-A-Life has spent state money and fulfilled state contracts before any consideration is given to future funding.
"To me, the jury is still out, because I haven't seen all the results," said Trotter.
Both senators Trotter and Jones have been given awards by Save-A-Life, Jones for saving someone from choking in a Springfield restaurant. Since then, Jones says he has been wrongly listed as Save-A-Life's "Illinois spokesman" and that he has never even helped fund the group.
"What do you mean support? I saved a woman's life down here in Springfield and this group came together, and they want to honor me for the woman choking to death in the Globe restaurant. Remember that?" Jones said.
In a letter, Jones writes that "issues and questions have been raised in the past year regarding SALF," and he "strongly encourages the foundation to answer those questions." He wrote the letter to Chicago woman Julia Rickert after receiving her complaint about Save-A-Life's use of state funds. Rickert worked at Save-A-Life's Schiller Park headquarters in late February as a temporary employee.
"I was told by the temp agency that Save-a-Life was looking for somebody to do proofreading, to proofread their instruction manual, a 600 page manual," said Rickert.
Rickert says she was told her assignment was to find misspellings in a new first responder's manual being prepared for it's instructors, but she says her supervisor had something else in mind.
"He never mentioned proofreading at all. He said their manual needed to be edited. They wanted it rewritten on a high school level. They wanted me to rewrite the entire book line by line," said Rickert said.
A Save-A-Life spokesman confirms to ABC7 that temp workers typed the copyrighted book into their system then hired Rickert as a temp who was told to rewrite it. The charity contends it was to be a first draft for a new training curriculum, even though Rickert had no expertise in emergency response.
"I have proofreading experience but not technical writing experience and no medical background," said Rickert.
Save-A-Life officials say when the year-long project is finished, it will be reviewed by "leading local and national EMS stakeholders and our intellectual property attorney," and then "certified by the Illinois Department of Public Health."
Rickert has contacted the publisher of the book she was told to rewrite. The publisher declined to discuss with ABC7 what he called their "legal investigation." And she has filed a complaint with the Illinois inspector general asking that Save-A-Life be investigated. Save-A-Life pledges to happily "cooperate with an investigation by responsible parties to dispel these baseless allegations."
Save-A-Life filed a defamation lawsuit this month against a doctor and two other men who have publicly criticized the charity. In the suit, Save-A-Life says the most serious allegations against them were "false, inflammatory and defamatory." Charity officials claim they have "lost business opportunities," funding and have had to spend money to repair damage to their reputation.
Save-A-Life may be losing funding from the Chicago Public Schools as well. A CPS official says they "are scrutinizing every expense" and may not have the budget to help out Save-A-Life as they have in recent years.
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