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Phony 'Red Cross' charity banned in North Dakota

Wayne Stenehjem

FARGO – The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office has banned a phony charity called Red Cross of Americas Inc. from operating in the state, the office said in a news release.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued a cease-and-desist order to the fake charity’s creator, James Michael Austin, aka Michael James Fisher, on Wednesday, March 21, banning him from doing business in the state.

Austin solicited donations from unsuspecting people who believed he was affiliated with the actual American Red Cross, which he is not, the attorney general’s office said.

“Not only did Mr. Austin create a phony charity so that he could take advantage of generous North Dakota residents, but he deliberately used a name that was almost identical to a well-known international charity, in an attempt to lend legitimacy to his efforts,” said Stenehjem in the release.

Austin registered his trade name with the state, but he did not complete the state’s licensing requirements for a charity or to be a professional fundraiser, the attorney general’s office said.

When contacted by investigators, Austin acknowledged collecting funds but could not say what the charity’s purpose was, the attorney general’s office said. Investigators believe Austin fled to Texas, where he has an address listed, because later attempts to contact him were unsuccessful.

Austin also created a GoFundMe site to supposedly benefit drought-stricken farmers in North Dakota and Montana and placed online job ads claiming to need drivers for a farm company, the attorney general’s office said. An arrest warrant was issued for Austin in McKenzie County, N.D., on unrelated theft charges.

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