A scam that began as an effort to take advantage of good-hearted people will now benefit families and individuals still recovering from the East Palestine train derailment.

Second Harvest Food Bank Executive Director Mike Iberis announced on Friday that his organization has received the $138,982 settlement from the fraudulent Ohio Clean Water Fund.

The scam, spearheaded by Mike Peppel of Leetonia, was launched following the February 3rd train derailment, chemical spill, and fire in East Palestine.

The Ohio Clean Water Fund raised $141,000 from more than 3,000 donors who thought their donations were being used to distribute emergency aid and bottled water to victims of the derailment through the food bank.

After food bank officials told the Ohio Attorney General that they were not linked to the Clean Water Fund, a subsequent investigation revealed that Peppel and his associates diverted all but $10,000 of the $141,000 raised for personal gains.

The Attorney General’s Office filed a civil lawsuit against the fund and Peppel, a former legislative aide to State Senator Michael Rulli.

A trial that had been scheduled in the case for next year was canceled and the case was dismissed after Peppel and the fund reached a settlement with the Attorney General.

In addition to dismissing the claims against the Ohio Clean Water Fund and one of its board members, Patrick Lee, the fund was ordered to dissolve and to pay $131,904.88, including $116,904.88 in restitution and $15,000 in civil penalties.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost acknowledged Second Harvest’s aid in the investigation, stating, “I extend my sincerest praise and gratitude to Second Harvest for their diligent support in identifying and shutting down the Ohio Clean Water Fund. The fraudulent charity shamelessly exploited the food bank’s name and reputation, taking advantage of Ohioans’ generosity after an environmental disaster.”

In 2022, Second Harvest Food Bank distributed over 9.5 million pounds of food, including 2.8 million pounds of produce.

21 News is again promoting the Feed Our Valley campaign until December 17. Our news team, along with our friends at Second Harvest Food Bank is asking the community to donate non-perishable food items to any Sparkle Market.

The most needed food items include cereal, canned vegetables, canned soup, canned fruit, dry pasta, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, and tuna.

Monetary donations stretch when given to the food bank. For every $1 donated, the food bank distributes $10 worth of food equal to 5 meals. Your efforts truly make a difference. In 2022, Second Harvest provided over 9.5 million meals locally.