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I-Team: Missouri Orders Shawn Hornbeck Foundation to Shut Down

3:31 PM, May 22, 2008   |    comments
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By Leisa Zigman, I-Team Reporter (KSDK) -- Missouri has ordered the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation to stop doing business and to dissolve all of its assets. Authorities said this typically happens when corporations fail to file necessary paperwork. Last year, the state dissolved 3,000 non-profits. A state spokesperson said it is very easy for an agency to get back in good standing. He said representatives from his office reached out to the Hornbeck Foundation several times. Despite being dissolved since December, the foundation's founders, Pam and Craig Akers, said they did not realize their poor standing until the I-Team called this week. The Akers said the foundation means everything to them. They formed it to help other parents after their son, Shawn, was kidnapped five years ago. Both Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Owenby were rescued from their kidnapper in January 2007. At the time, many donations were sent to the foundation and to a trust fund established to pay for Shawn's medical and educational needs. "In no way did money come pouring in. We heard rumors we drew $100,000, six-figure salaries, from the foundation," said Craig. "That is just so far from the truth. None of us have ever been paid a penny from the foundation." The Akers started the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation in January 2003, just three months after Shawn had been kidnapped. Its mission remains dedicated to preventing child abductions and to help with the search and rescue of lost, missing, or abducted children. Pam Akers said the task of running the foundation has not been easy. "It's overwhelming at times for us. I know (it is) for me," she said. While the Akers worked hard to help locate missing children, they admit administrative issues fell through the cracks. In October 2004, the state put the agency on notice for failing to file an annual report. Two months later, its attorney filed the appropriate paperwork. The following October, the state issued another notice. This time, however, nothing was filed in response, and the state issued a dissolution order. "Under the law, (dissolution) means they can't conduct any business other then winding up their company and liquidating the assets," said Ryan Hobart, a spokesman for the Missouri Secretary of State. Yet Craig and Pam Akers freely admit the foundation remained active and continued fundraising. They said they had no idea the state had issued the dissolution order. They blame themselves for delegating the task to a staff member. In March 2007, the foundation was reinstated. It filed its annual reports for 2005 and 2006. The following October, another notice for failure to file an annual report was sent to the foundation. Two days after Christmas, the state again dissolved it. The Hornbecks started seeing red flags last year. They said they would look inside drawers and see unopened invoices. Craig Akers realized the foundation was in trouble. "It started with receiving collection notices and being hounded by collection agencies and then other things here and there popping up that didn't get taken care of," he said. The Akers said they hired an administrator to handle the paperwork. That administrator is no longer with the foundation, but they admit the buck stopped with them. "It's hard to know that I failed, I don't like doing that," Pam Akers said. When asked to explain why she failed, Pam said, "Trying to handle too much then I can. Not admitting I can't do it all." The Akers and state officials said this is a paperwork issue that will be rectified shortly. The Internal Revenue Service, IRS, may prove a tougher fight. Under federal law the Hornbeck Foundation should have filed a form called a 990 each year. It shows a non-profit's assets, income, expenses, salaries and other information. That paper work was never filed, either. IRS fines could total as much as $50,000. "It's a lot of money that will definitely be a problem. There is always a solution. If you want something bad enough you'll figure out how to take care of it," said Craig Akers. The Akers vow to move the foundation forward. "It's not just Craig and I getting punished. It would be everybody else that helped us, that prayed for us, we'd be letting the world down, is what I'd feel like," Pam said. The Foundation is now being reorganized with legal help from the Bryan Cave law firm and new accountants. The Akers said almost all their current debt has been repaid. The foundation has big plans for the future. Sunday it will launch a new website targeting Missouri's Missing Children. Just two weeks ago, Shawn Hornbeck helped register dozens of children at a weekend event. The group provided children with identification cards that would help law enforcement in case of an abduction. It's one of the foundation's missions. "It's encouraging people to take just a few minutes and to look at pictures of missing children and try to keep that photograph in your mind as you go throughout the day," Craig said. "You never know when you're going to be the person who saw a missing child. I know for a fact, hundreds of people saw Shawn when he was missing and never put two and two together." Using the latest computer age enhancements, the website shows 35 missing Missourians, like Arlin Henderson, of Moscow Mills. He was kidnapped in 1991 when he was 11-years-old. The website also shows what he would like now at 28. Arlin's uncle, James McWilliams, said he could not say enough about the Akers and their Foundation. "They (the Akers) still haven't forgot. Alot of people walk along the way when it's said and done and forget about everybody else and live their own life," McWilliams said. "They've continued this fight. And it is a fight." The Akers believe if people were more aware of those missing, it might have helped Shawn come home sooner. "We heard from so many people who know they saw him in Quik Trip," Craig said. "One of those people coming forward would have been all it takes." The foundation also has plans to convert a bus into a mobile command center that would help law enforcement in the first few hours and days after an abduction. "The interior is currently being re-done to look more like an office complete with computer work stations, printers, plotters, communications capabilities both radio and cellular," Craig said. The Hornbecks said they are close to hiring a ghost writer and a book deal is imminent. A portion of the money from book sales will go toward establishing a trust for the foundation to ensure it continues long into the future. ------ For more info: Secretary of State's file on the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation

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