Man charged with defrauding donors to Newtown school charity

This Oct. 28, 2013 aerial photo shows the Sandy Hook Elementary School, relocated to the former Chaulk Hill School building in Monroe, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A man who created a charity to benefit those affected by the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been arrested on allegations that he took most of it for himself, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Robert Bruce of Nashville, Tennessee, was indicted by a grand jury in Connecticut earlier this month and arrested Friday in Tennessee on six counts of wire fraud before being released on $20,000 bond.

The 34-year-old man started the 26.4.26 Foundation for runners to raise money in memory of the victims of the Newtown shooting — 20 children and six educators. The fundraising effort was featured in Runner’s World magazine and was the subject of several local news stories.

In January 2014, a co-founder of the charity, Ryan Graney, told The Associated Press that it was unable to account for more than $70,000 it had raised through marathon running. She said Bruce was in charge of the finances but had cut off contact with her. Investigations were opened by authorities in Connecticut and Tennessee.

According to the indictment, Bruce solicited contributions through PayPal by telling donors that all proceeds would go to the foundation with a mission to “provide funding for the families of victims, memorials for teacher heroes and to increase safety in schools across the country.” He is accused of using the money to enrich himself and to support his personal-training business.

It was not immediately known whether Bruce has an attorney, and attempts by the AP to reach him have been unsuccessful. His arraignment is scheduled for next week in Hartford federal court.

Graney said Bruce’s arrest gave her an enormous sense of relief.

“For almost two years I have been fighting for this,” she said in a statement to the AP. “I have taken many personal attacks on social media because there was no conclusion. We finally have a conclusion. To the families of Sandy Hook, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stop this sooner but when I found out, I did. I’m sorry if this brings you any additional pain.”

Graney said last year that only $30,000 of the $103,000 taken in by the foundation had been used for the organization’s purpose. She said she noticed something was amiss in 2013, when she discovered suspicious charges to the foundation’s PayPal account.

“I saw there was $1,200 billed for paddle boards,” she said. “I went on (Bruce’s) Instagram page, and he had posted a picture of a paddle board in the back of his truck.”

The top federal prosecutor for Connecticut, Deirdre Daly, said her office and the FBI continue to prioritize the investigation of schemes that exploit donors responding to the Sandy Hook massacre.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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