LOS ANGELES -- A Southern California organization using television spots showing starving people in Ethopia has apparently collected millions of dollars but has spent very little in aid, other charitable groups said Friday.
A spokesman for International Christian Aid said it has not been allowed to send aid directly to the African nation but has turned over supplies to a French organization, Doctors Without Borders.
A spokesman for that group, however, said it hasn't received a cent from ICA, an affiliate of Inter-Aid, Inc., of Camarillo, Calif.
'They are real skilled at collecting money and real reticent about spending it,' said the spokesman for a respected medical aid group based in Los Angeles.
A spokeswoman for the Catholic Relief Services agency in New York said it has had a problem with groups that claim to be 'working in places that they aren't.'
'ICA does not have a presence in Ethiopia,' she said, 'and we have been on the ground there for 10 years and have a pretty good idea of what's going on there.'
Inter-Aid is run by its founder, L. Joe Bass, who set up a group called 'Underground Evangelism' in Los Angeles in the early 1960s to smuggle Bibles to Communist countries.
Bass was reportedly out of the country and Nello Pinelli, the group's director of communications, was not available for comment on the new allegations regarding Ethiopia.
Pinelli told the New York Times the group collected more than $34 million in the 1983 fiscal year. He said the rate of contributions has increased in recent weeks with appeals to former donors and heavy TV and newspaper advertising.
The ads contained the implied endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and celebrities Martin Sheen and Shirley Jones.
A spokesman for Bradley said Friday the mayor had sent a letter to Inter-Aid agreeing to serve on its Board of Reference, but earlier this month became aware of problems with the group and sent a second letter 'telling them to take us off the board.'
Actor Martin Sheen has no affiliation with the group, a spokesman said, and 'is quite upset' about the use of his name 'without his knowledge or consent.'
Inter-Aid has been under investigation by the Ventura County District Attorney's office for two years, a probe intensfied last summer when two former employees brought forth evidence of wrongdoing.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, meanwhile, included Inter-Aid in a prize-winning series on questionable charities two years ago.
Reporter Chris Jensen told UPI he found that ICA -- with a multi-million dollar budget -- sent 20-year-old Civil Defense crackers to Africa in 1976. The crackers, acquired at no cost, were described by a government agency as 'rancid and not fit for human consumption.'
The Plain Dealer series also noted that U.S. State Department became upset when ICA tried to raise funds for Somalia claiming they were helping 1.5 million refugees, about 1 million more than existed.
Other sources said ICA and Inter-Aid had a series of interlocking financial accounts around the world hiding the movement of funds.
A spokesman for another aid group in Los Angeles said ICA has a budget of 'about $50 million ... (and) has an incredibly onerous system for its employees, including security checks that would do justice to the CIA, non-disclosure statements they have to sign.'
An analysis of the group by the Better Business Bureau in Washington indicated that 59 percent of the group's money went to overhead -- administrative and promotional expenses and religious programs -- and only 41 percent were spent on programs described in its solicitations.
An ICA brochure said fund raising costs do not normally exceed 20 percent and are often underwritten by individuals and companies with the 'maximum possible to aid the children.'
ICA, which claims to be a religious organization, is exempt from government regulations requiring other non-profit groups to account for the expenditure of contributions.