Those yellow clothing-collection bins behind your local gas station or convenience store aren’t actually particularly charitable, according to a Reveal investigation. Not only will your donations likely not be helping hungry kids in Africa, they may be directly supporting a Danish international fugitive named Mogens Amdi Petersen.
Most bins of this type, which have cropped up just about everywhere in recent years, asking you to drop in your used clothes and shoes, don’t do much good for the world’s poor or the environment. Multiple operators of similar bins have come under fire for selling the collected items for profit, rather than donating the clothes or the proceeds. What separates Planet Aid from the pack is the scale of its operation and the bizarre nature of the organization that seems to be behind it.
Reveal and NBC Washington dug up IRS records showing that Planet Aid makes up to $42 million per year. That money is supposed to be donated to needy communities in places like Malawi and Mozambique. But in an FBI file on Planet Aid’s parent organization also obtained by NBC, investigators wrote that “Little to no money goes to the charities.”
Planet Aid seems to be controlled by a Danish organization known alternately as Tvind or The Teachers Group, which was founded in the 1970s by a man named Mogens Amdi Petersen. According to Danish court documents, Tvind is a kind of secular, ostensibly humanitarian cult, in which members are instructed to live collectively, “transfer all their available income to joint savings,” and “forgo their personal rights, such as the right to start a family to their own wish.” Petersen himself is an internationally wanted man, having allegedly committed fraud and tax evasion and his home country, and the NBC report speculates that he may be hiding out in a $25 million, 494-acre compound in Baja, Mexico.
Former Planet Aid employees said Tvind’s cultishness extended to their organization as well. A Maryland woman who responded to a Planet Aid job posting on Craigslist told NBC that she was asked to panhandle for money, work around the clock, and give 20 percent of her $28,000 salary back to the organization to finance a training program at an ominous-sounding facility called One World Center in Michigan.