Ohio: Charity settles false claims to help those impacted by train derailment

COLUMBUS — Thousands of dollars raised by a charity that falsely claimed it would help residents affected by a train derailment on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border earlier this year will be turned over to a food bank serving the area, Ohio’s attorney general announced Wednesday.

The Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine spilled hazardous chemicals into nearby creeks and rivers. It led to the evacuation of half of the 5,000 residents when responders intentionally burned toxic chemicals in some of the derailed cars from the Norfolk Southern train to prevent an uncontrolled explosion.

Following the accident, authorities say the Ohio Clean Water Fund sent text messages to solicit contributions, claiming it had partnered with the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley to collect donations for bottled water. The charity raised $141,000 from roughly 3,200 donors, but eventually spent more than $100,000 on fees and gave just $10,000 to the food bank.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said food bank representatives complained to his office, saying they had not authorized a partnership with the charity’s founder, Mike Peppel. Yost’s office filed a lawsuit in April against Peppel and the charity.

The agreement calls for the charity to dissolve and pay more than $131,000 in restitution and civil penalties. Roughly $117,000 of that amount will go to the food bank for bottled water and other emergency aid for East Palestine, while the $15,000 civil penalty will go into the attorney general’s charitable law fund.

The lawsuit against Peppel is still ongoing, authorities said. Peppel’s lawyer has previously declined to comment on the litigation.

Peppel is a former congressional and state legislative staffer for some area lawmakers.