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WAUKESHA — The Wisconsin Department of Justice has filed an enforcement action in Waukesha County alleging that candy donation canisters placed in hundreds of southeast Wisconsin businesses misled consumers into believing that the money raised would assist in the search for missing children. The suit was brought against Michael Messmer, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and Marilyn Broerman, of Charlotte, North Carolina, who has operated under the business names Creative Marketing Solutions and The Beacon Project.
According to the suit, Messmer purchased over four hundred canisters from Broerman, together with labels Messmer applied to the canisters following Broerman's instructions. The labels included a reduced-size missing child poster and the statement “Thank You for Your Generous Donation.”
The suit alleges that Broerman, using the business names “The Beacon Project” and “Creative Marketing Solutions,” sells the candy vending units and labels, and also provides placement services to find business locations for the canisters. According to the lawsuit, in 2007 Messmer responded to an advertisement Broerman placed in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and purchased a total of 444 candy canisters from Broerman; he later purchased an additional 327 used canisters from persons who had previously bought them from Broerman. In all, the suit alleges that Messmer placed over 700 canisters throughout southeast Wisconsin. The amount of money collected through the bins is not known at this time.
The state's complaint asserts that the labels on the canisters conveyed the false impression that the proceeds of the candy operations would support the work of charities dedicated to locating missing children. However, none of the money deposited in the candy bins was provided to any charitable organization; nor has Messmer ever registered as a charitable solicitor in Wisconsin.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting further violations of Wisconsin's charitable solicitation law, as well as forfeitures and recovery of the state's costs to investigate and prosecute the case. Each violation of state law carries a forfeiture between $100 and $10,000.
“Deceiving the public into believing that money collected by the defendants will benefit missing children is reprehensible,” said Attorney General Van Hollen. “We will not tolerate false or misleading charitable solicitations, which exploit the generosity of the public, and we will continue to vigorously enforce our charitable solicitation laws.”
The case has been assigned to Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Mac Davis, and is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General John Greene.
A copy of the complaint is available at: