Editor's Notes: It's Time For A Change
It’s time for the Saugatuck City Council to put a stop to the great annual deception perpetrated by Glenn resident Don Karaus Jr. under the guise of his running the so-called “fundraising” Venetian Festival beer tent event held every summer.
At this Monday’s upcoming city council meeting, Saugatuck officials have a simple choice to make: approve another application by Karaus to run the event which has annually failed to produce promised donations to local charities - with his usual little or no verifiable accounting records to show where all the tens of thousands of dollars pouring in to the event coffers from thirsty beer drinkers actually go each year - or pick the respectable and experienced Cow Hill Yacht Club to be in charge.
Since the city owned Coughlin Park is the locale for the event, council approval for the Venetian beer tent fundraiser is supposedly contingent on the proceeds going to local charities and/or the public good.
Want to guess how much money Karaus has verified he has donated after running each year’s event? Pick a number between zero and zero.
The few thousand bucks that Karaus actually claims to spend on fireworks for the Venetian weekend - the stated reason he has so generously donated his time to in running the beer tent event - doesn’t come anywhere near accounting for the big dollars the event brings in annually.
Two years ago when Observer Newspapers began investigating Karaus’ handling of the event and asked him to provide a legitimate accounting for all the cash raised that year and in years prior, this altruistic Glenn resident:
1. threatened to harm the reporter asking him questions;
2. lied about having applied for and receiving an IRS 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt designation;
3. failed to provide any accounting documents detailing the amount of cash raised and spent from the event;
4. failed to provide any banking records or information showing what local charities he made donations to from the event proceeds;
5. lied to local government officials and others when he was asked how much last year’s event raised (ask Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier how many different amounts Karaus told him the event brought in or the amounts Karaus cited to others.) Give you a hint, the amounts raised, Karaus said, depending on who he was talking to at any given moment, went from over $30,000 all the way to the event lost money and he had to pay some of the bills out of his own pocket. Really?
During last year’s Venetian beer tent event, eyewitnesses reported Karaus and some of his cronies carried out bags and bags of cash that were supposed to be taken immediately to Chemical Bank where the city has an account. The money was to be deposited at Chemical so there would be a record established of the amount raised. Didn’t happen. Karaus later said he put the money in his own account in Macatawa Bank - but has produced no records to prove it or that can prove the amount raised and carried out of the event is what he actually deposited.
The city so far has placed no concrete, legally enforceable checks and balances in place to prevent these practices from occuring again.
City Manager Harrier has said enough is enough as well and has proposed creating a legal contract/document called a Memo of Understanding that would contain a list of requirements - for anyone, including Mr. Karaus - that would have to be signed upon their seeking city council approval for them to use public property for so-called charitable or other events.
It’s time to stop the scams. If city officials do their job which is to protect local residents and the money due them through honest charitable donations raised at the event, they need to approve the application from Cow Hill Yacht Club.
Saugatuck taxpayers deserve it and common sense demands it.
Oh, and if Saugatuck City Council was really doing its job, each councilperson would be on the telephone to officials of the Michigan Attorney General’s Charities Division demanding a full and complete investigation of Mr. Karaus’ past actions - and a complete forensic accounting investigation to determine what he has done with all the money raised over the years from Venetian festivals - but let’s not hold our collective breaths.