GOP candidate’s lavish charity spending, funded by taxpayers, raises questions about campaign loan

by | Jun 30, 2020


Most donors who give cash to non-profit groups want the bulk of their money spent on the group’s primary mission. But in the case of Roger Lolly and his Fort Myers based If I Can Dream Foundation (IICDF), the “donors” are state taxpayers, the mission is special needs student training, and a large chunk of the state’s money goes straight to Lolly’s pocket.

Last year, Lolly took home more than $187,000 in salary from the foundation, which is entirely funded by tax dollars through a state contract. Now, he is asking Republican voters in South Florida’s 78th State House District to nominate him as their candidate to replace outgoing State Representative Heather Fitzenhagen. On paper, he’s a solid, pro-life conservative. But controversy surrounding the exorbitant salary – far larger than what most organizations of the same size actually pay –  could hamper his campaign. The high salary issue is made even more relevant because it is Lolly’s only source of income, and in January of this year he loaned his campaign $115,000 in cash.

Lolly responded to criticisms about the loan, saying they are unfair because the funds came from a joint checking account. He did not elaborate on how the joint account was funded.

He and his wife have a special needs son, who is featured prominently on the campaign’s website. Lolly’s story about their son’s birth is moving and inspirational, and undoubtedly played a role in Lolly’s formation of the If I Can Dream Foundation. 

Headquartered in Fort Myers, the organization says its mission is to “recognize and support every person’s right to be included in the life of the community.” Lolly runs the organization from a small office space that he rents for $5,000 per year, according to federal income tax records.

For the past three years, every penny of funding to Lolly’s organization came from a grant administered through the Florida Department of Education. The funds were provided jointly by the state and federal government. The program’s mission: deliver vocational and career training to special needs juveniles and adults between 14-21 years old.

Lolly landed the first of three consecutive state contracts for the program in 2017. In that first year, his foundation received $209,761 to deliver the training. But from that amount, Lolly took home almost half of the funds, over $103,000, as his salary. Another executive hired by Lolly took a salary of $74,000, and he spent $21,000 on rent, office supplies, auto expenses and advertising. Only 91 individuals participated in the program that year, for which Lolly’s foundation collected $2,305 per student.

An examination of If I Can Dream Foundation’s 2018 tax records show Lolly gave himself a substantial raise the next year, bumping his own pay to its current level of $187,029, which in 2018 consumed about 35 percent of the program’s funding.

Records for other foundations providing the same types of services as Lolly’s group are difficult to come by. But the CEO’s of at least two such groups, Jacksonville-based Empowerment of Florida, and A Plus Alliance Support, based near Tampa, don’t pocket anywhere close to the salary that Lolly pays himself. The most realistic comparison is A Plus Alliance, which pays its CEO just $72,000 per year, $110,000 less than Lolly, while A Plus Alliance manages an even larger contract from the state.

When contacted, Lolly declined to address questions about how much he chooses to pay himself, and instead directed his comments toward the importance of his organization’s mission.

“Let’s remember the students we assist are mentally or physically handicapped – sometimes both,” Lolly said. “Our mission is to get them and to keep them employed- which ultimately saves taxpayers money.”

But Lolly’s high salary isn’t the only concern raising the eyebrows of area business leaders and non-profit executives who have talked to Lolly about his foundation and his campaign for state representative, according to sources interviewed by The Capitolist.

Records for the foundation’s 2019 tax year are not yet available, but Lolly appears to have spent a considerable sum on targeted advertising last December promoting himself on a series of billboards that read “Merry Christmas from the Lolly Family” in large, bold lettering, accompanied by a photo of Lolly and his wife, or one with Lolly and his entire family mimicking the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover..

In one version of the billboard, across the bottom, are the words “Adult Day Training Coming Soon.” But there are no dates or locations listed. There’s not even a website address, nor other clear link to his foundation where special needs families can get more information. As a result, the billboard appears to be promoting Lolly and his wife, not the foundation:

According to a financial disclosure submitted when he filed to run for office, Lolly’s only source of income are the taxpayer dollars he is paid from IICDF. It’s not known whether Lolly paid for the billboards out of his foundation salary, if the foundation itself footed the bill, or, if the billboard was paid for by the same joint checking account used to loan his campaign money.

Another version of the billboard mentions “The Lolly Family of Businesses,” but those “businesses” don’t generate any income for Lolly according to a financial disclosure document he filed earlier this month. In fact, Lolly didn’t bother to list any other business assets anywhere on his candidate financial disclosure.

For 2018, the most recent year for which foundation records are available, all of the cash Lolly spent came from the state. But he didn’t just spend money on advertising or billboards ($21,500). His organization has only two full-time employees: himself and one other person. Yet he spent large sums of money on phone bills ($3,900), auto expenses ($22,650), office supplies, office rent ($5,000), and “philanthropic” giving of $15,000 of the state’s grant money to other organizations.

It’s not clear which organizations got the cash or why.

The tax records also show that he spent $3,600 on a “lunch meeting.”  Meanwhile, the foundation only spent $2,200 on lunches for special needs students attending the summer classes.

But before Lolly could justify any spending, he first had to get students to attend the training sessions. The foundation’s Form 990 tax return for 2018 shows that in order to attract the 200 students planned for in the 2018 program, he spent $54,000 on gift cards in $250 denominations that he offered as incentives to the students to try to boost attendance.

It didn’t work.

Only 181 special needs students qualified for the program actually showed up out of the 200 expected, which meant more than $8,000 in gift cards were purchased but not used for the program. Lolly says he gave the extra gift cards away to other students who attended the training but didn’t meet state requirements to qualify for the special needs funds.

“There’s no accounting for what they are doing with the money. That’s very disturbing as a taxpayer,” said one 30-year veteran of the non-profit industry who declined to be identified, citing close ties to the local community where Lolly lives. “How do they account for those gift cards? That’s just very odd.”

The state’s vocation training program managers don’t seem to be bothered by the loose accounting, though. Last year, Lolly was awarded his third consecutive state contract. This time, IICDF will collect around $1 million to administer the training program to as many as 586 special needs students.

A Facebook post announcing the availability of classes in June and July has been reposted several times this month. No actual class dates or times were provided. A post on June 3rd announced a “new facility” for the program, but with COVID-19 cases still climbing, IICDF says it will offer the program online.

28 Comments

  1. Juanita Lopez

    Sounds like a real scumbag scamming money from disabled people.

    Disgusting.

    Reply
  2. Laurie S Marshall

    Well I’m pro-life I’m in favor of special needs training
    I’m a teacher and I’m a true American Patriot so if this is a democratic establishment and I don’t want to hear from anybody from here go away

    Reply
  3. Austin Heldt

    I am crying! The truth is coming out!

    Reply
  4. Joe Schmoe

    Though you may not want to hear the truth you are going to hear it regardless. People take the time to report on a abuse will never go away. As a taxpayer you should be appalled by this, but instead you seem to be endorsing it. Change is coming… #vote

    Reply
  5. Susan

    Finally!!! Let the truth be known!!! Roger has pulled the wool over the community’s eyes for far too long! He and his “foundation” have been nothing short of a farce over the past years. Screwing kiddos with special needs over so he can pocket money. Promising them things they were never provided. Roger is sick. Let the truth be known!!!

    Reply
  6. Pam

    I have Ben reporting this foundation for months and no one seemed to care. They have screwed over so many. Roger is scum of the earth and no way should he be allowed near students with special needs nor an elected position.

    Reply
  7. Steve

    Stealing taxpayers money. Arrest him. What a sick individual.

    Reply
  8. Carol

    I have made several reports to the Department of Education regarding this foundation and their lies. Yet, the state would never do anything about it. Several state staff members also tried advocating in my son’s behalf but they were told there was no proof of wrong doing. They would say they provided services to the kids and request payment but when talking to the kiddos and parents, they would say Roger and his staff never did anything. My child and several of his friends participated in their youth camps and were promised the $250 gift cards and NEVER received them. Scammers!! Thank goodness something is FINALLY being done.

    Reply
  9. Robert DuPont

    Somebody need to investigate. Call every family that was ever involved with this organization and really question what was done. This is terrible that this happen right in our community. Totally disadvantaged persons with disabilities and funding that tax payer. How does he sleep at night?

    Reply
  10. Katrina Campbell

    My child participated in one of their camps. We were promised lunches daily and a $250 gift card. Never saw a dime. Be mmmmm roger wasn’t even the one who taught the course and the “teacher” had just received materials! Total joke and clearly Roger lolly is just in it for the money and self gain. Not sure what the department of Ed didn’t do or has t done anything with this joke of a place. No wonder Ruben left before things got too ugly. Sick.

    Reply
  11. Carol

    TRUTH

    Reply
  12. Britney Jeffery

    The department of Ed should shut this fool down. So many of my children’s parents have also experienced their lack of professionalism and their unfulfilled promises to individuals with special needs. I don’t know how anyone could vote for him.

    Reply
  13. Ryan

    I am so glad people are finally seeing what my wife and I have complained about for so long! We voiced our concerns to my daughter’s Voc Rehab Counselor. The counselor was empathetic and just as outraged; however, when they tried reporting it to higher ups, nothing was done about it. If I can Dream said they got our daughter a job and NEVER ONCE even sent her a job lead. We then switched to a different job coach and within a month, our daughter was placed in employment with an employer she loves. The public needs to stop being fooled by Roger’s fakeness

    Reply
  14. Michelle B.

    Wow! After reading this article and some of these comments, I am shocked and appalled that no one ever took some of these complaints seriously. I mean, scamming disabled kids just to make a dollar? $187,000 seems like more than just a non- profit agency to me…and on behalf of the taxpayers 🙄. Shame on you, Roger.

    Reply
  15. Shannon L.

    This foundation has been soliciting kiddos illegally and making promises to get them in the door to get their money from the state and then leave them high and dry. But clearly Roger Lolly has a lot to make for his yearly salary increase. From a taxpayer, it’s sick. How dare you!! This article finally exposes Roger and his “foundation” and what a hoax it is. These kids deserve so much more than your falsehoods and your stealing.

    Reply
  16. J

    I am another provider in the area and my partner and I absolutely love helping the individuals with disabilities get jobs. It is our passion. We have taken pay cuts just to stay in business and continue doing what we love…all because of crooks like Roger and his foundation stealing business away by making “promises” of $250 gift cards that entice the children. I hope they finally get what they deserve!

    Reply
  17. Joe Lockwood

    Snakes everywhere just ready to bite.

    Reply
  18. Susan A.

    After working with Rogers IICD foundation, they left my child without a job, zero follow through, and promised her things she never received. We were blown smoke about what he could offer and he followed through on nothing. Seemed pretty full of himself too. This article matches him to a t.

    Reply
  19. Jane Doe

    I personally worked with Roger and he’s a completely different human than he portrays himself to be. Snapping at his employees. You wonder why no one sticks around his foundation and why he can’t find teachers to teach his courses. He should be embarrassed. He’s not the “epitome of a family man” fakes claim him to be. All for show. Read the article. Finally the truth is known. Take it from a first hand account and ask the families who he’s screwed over what they think. Check out all the reports that have been filed against him because of shady happenings. Just gross.

    Reply
  20. Jason E.

    Roger has made threats to Department of Education employees if they didn’t refer kids to their foundation. He would show up at their offices harrassing the employees and always blaming someone else when called out on their incompetence as professionals. Thank goodness someone has finally blasted them for their shadiness.

    Reply
  21. Steven

    Zero follow through with returning phone calls. Absolutely ridiculous foundation. They should be ashamed. Sounds like a giant scam. Who’s even teaching these courses? Joke.

    Reply
  22. Michael

    J just want to say that this information isn’t about Roger’s “opponent ” just trying to bash his campaign. If you actually read what the article says and do your research, you will find the facts to be true. Plus, if you actually talk to people who have to work with or deal with Roger and Louie, including parents, students, other professionals AND the state emoyees (who btw, barely make 40k a year while this joker pockets 187k), people can see for themselves this isn’t someone just writing a story to spread lies.

    P.s. you can get anyone’s salary who works for the state. It’s all public. You can see that the hard working state employees barely make enough to support themselves while this schmuck is living the life off of taxpayers

    Reply
  23. Nanje

    If you use different IP addresses, it will make all of these comments more believable. Lol

    Reply
  24. Lisa Skinner

    As with any political article, the author of this article relied on mudslinging and manipulation of data in an attempt to prove his point-that Mr. Lolly is using his foundation for his own gains. As a teacher for the summer camps provided by the foundation, I would like to share my thoughts on Mr. Lolly and the good the foundation does in helping the young adults in our county and in neighboring counties.

    Mr. Lolly saw the need for more vocational/life opportunities to be available to students who have either an IEP or a 504 plan. Before the foundation could move forward, approval from the state of Florida was needed. Since inception, the state has always been involved. No monies are received or delivered until the proper paperwork has been submitted and approved by the state (the claim of extra gift cards). The state’s involvement means that money is not wasted and that the foundation is held accountable. The article provides numbers yet does so without fully explaining how the money was truly used. The records for the foundation are public records and can be viewed by anyone. I would suggest that readers of the article request and look at these documents and not just blindly believe the author’s words which are intended to undermine a program that helps many young adults and Mr. Lolly himself. I would suggest that all voters use due diligence when voting for ANY candidate instead of relying on the words of another.

    For the young adults to participate in the IICD camp and in camps with a similar focus, they must first be referred from Vocational Rehab. Once the referral has been made, the young adults are contacted about the camps and are given the option to participate either in person (following CDC guidelines) or via Zoom. During the camp, they learn about jobs within our community, some that require a college diploma, some that require a certificate/license, and some that only require a high school diploma. They learn about disclosure and advocating for themselves. They learn about the laws that protect them in school and in the world/workplace. They learn how to create a resume and how to successfully handle themselves in an interview. They learn how to work with their peers, just as they would work with their coworkers. They learn skills that will help them once they leave the camp and pursue a job/career of their choosing. Should these young adults need more guidance or want to share their successes, Mr. Lolly, Mr. Ciaffe, and any of the teachers of the camps are available to help and listen. We are all invested in watching these young adults grow and find their way in the world.

    As one of the teachers of the camp, I am very protective of my students and took great offense to the article in The Capitolist. For eight hours a day, these young adults are my kids, and I want only the best for them. The If I Can Dream Foundation has given me the opportunity to teach these amazing young people and has helped to give them the skills that will hopefully allow them to find success as adults.

    Instead of just commenting on this article, please look at the foundation’s records which are available through the state for you to view. I am sure you can come to your own conclusions instead of relying on an article which clearly has a political agenda.

    Reply
  25. Peter Towle

    Anyone Dumb enough to read up and believe a bunch of mudslinging and manipulation from a group of john and jane doe’s are probably just as ignorant as the publisher and his acquaintances. If you know anything about Roger Lolly his Family and This Foundation you’ll see nothing but Faith Hope n Love pouring out in all they do! What they do for these individuals and their families is a life changing course not giving in schools. I gonna Pray hard for you bottom feeders trying to take Someone like Roger Lolly and his foundation and using it for your political gain. Shame on you!

    Reply
  26. John Doe

    How did you get my cell number to text me? Ever hear of the Can Spam Act?

    Reply
  27. Remove me

    Why am I receiving this? Already voted for the guy and proud of it

    Reply

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