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Anti-trafficking group Saved in America and its founder are using the branding of a national organization dedicated to locating missing and exploited children without permission to raise money for their challenged claims of rescuing young people from the streets.
Saved in America, a nonprofit based in the Valley Center home of its creator, private investigator Joseph Travers, describes itself as a group of former law enforcement and military personnel that helps families locate missing and exploited children. Since its formation in 2014, the organization has sought and received extensive publicity for Travers, who bills himself as a “Certified Missing and Exploited Child Investigator.”
Travers, though, also created another organization, The National Association for Missing and Exploited Children. That name closely resembles a well-known nonprofit dedicated to locating missing children: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. That 37-year-old organization has assisted law enforcement in the recovery of 376,000 missing children, according to its website.
In March and April, Saved in America sent promotional materials touting to potential donors NCMEC involvement in a two-city, missing children rescue in Nevada. Saved in America added its logo to the flier along with contact information.
But NCMEC has no relationship with Saved in America, wasn’t involved in any program in Nevada, and did not give Travers permission to use its logo in fundraising appeals, said NCMEC spokeswoman Emma Vaughan.
“There have been other groups using names nearly identical to ours, and our logo. We would urge caution and encourage the public to contact us with any questions.”
Travers and Stephanie Brown, a Saved in America advisory board member and publicist for the charity, did not respond to requests for comment. Two attorneys who have represented the nonprofit and Travers in the past also did not respond to a request for comment.
This isn’t the first time Saved in America is in hot water. Previous behavior by the organization caught the attention of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
Two years ago, a private investigator named Chris Reynolds contacted the DA’s office with a report into the nonprofit outlining a series of issues involving Saved in America. It included allegations that the group had made false representations to the IRS to receive federal grants, and had made other false representations of charities and nonprofits to benefit for-profit business ventures. It also alleged the group had filed fictitious documents to receive “funding from the local government.”
In a letter to Reynolds responding to his report, Damon Mosler, a deputy district attorney, said the DA would forward the allegations to the State Attorney General.
“We believe the actions you outline do need to be investigated,” wrote Damon Mosler, a deputy district attorney. “Since the Attorney General’s office has a special unit for investigating the allegations related to charities as such, we will be forwarding your report to their charities regulation and enforcement division.”
Thirty months have passed since the DA indicated it was referring the matter to the state agency. The AG did not comment then and hasn’t provided any comment to the recent inquiry.
Last month, though, the DA’s office indicated the matter is still alive.
“I can tell you that we believe the AG’s office is taking this referral seriously and will handle it as appropriate,” said Steve Walker, communications director and special assistant to the San Diego County District Attorney.
During this 30-month period, Saved in America has continued to pursue donors to combat human trafficking, most recently during a trip through Nevada. Voice of San Diego reported in November that other groups listed in the organization’s fundraising appeals said they did not have relationships with Saved in America and asked for their branding to be removed from the promotional material.
Then, Travers was showcasing his “team of heroes,” including former US Navy SEALs and former law enforcement personnel, working on rescue operations led by Travers. But law enforcement organizations listed as collaborators, including the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego County Sherriff’s Department, and the FBI have each told us they do not have any arrangement with Travers or Saved in America.
In email and promotional materials for the recent Reno and Las Vegas fundraisers in April, Saved in America was asking for funds for a “special operation to assist parents and law enforcement” in finding young people shown in NCMEC appeals.
Travers and his team were asking for $15,000 for each Las Vegas operation, to recover the costs of looking for missing girls. Their claims of successful recovery operations referenced local police involvement, but the five major police agencies in Las Vegas said they were not involved with Travers’ operations.
In Reno, Sgt. Scott Smith of the Washoe County Human Exploitation and Trafficking Team said his department was contacted by someone from Travers’ organization. Smith said the department rejected the proposal from Saved in America to join them in a recovery operation.
Travers did not respond to Voice’s questions on the operations.
Travers’ son, Joshua Travers, who is a police officer in Charlottesville, Virginia is also involved in Saved in America. His role as a sworn police officer has been cited by Travers in its success stories on fundraising appeals.
Lt. Michael Gore, who works in the professional standards unit of the Charlottesville Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs, said Joshua Travers’ use of the department to help promote Saved in America was a violation of department policy.
“Officer J. Travers identified himself as a Charlottesville Police Officer to give credence to his position as the Law Enforcement Liaison with Saved in America,” Gore wrote. “He had not received permission from the Chief of Police, or her designee before doing so, which is a violation of departmental policy. There is evidence to show he has social media that shows him in a Charlottesville Police Officer uniform and links him to the Saved in America group.”
Joshua Travers could not be reached for comment.
During the most recent four-day patrol in Las Vegas, Travers used an RV designed as a mobile command center. The recreational vehicle was funded several years ago through grants from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The allegations provided to the District Attorney’s office, which it said warranted further investigation and forward to the AG, included “filing fictitious documents to receive funding from local government.”
In a San Diego County grant application signed by Travers and Joshua Travers, Saved in America argued the RV would “increase the number of missing child cases that we can handle and ultimately help to locate and recover more children.” Travers estimated it could increase Saved in America’s operations by 50 percent to 60 percent.
Since receiving the gift from San Diego County taxpayers, neither Saved in America nor the county have been able to provide any documentation or data supporting any proof of Travers’ efforts, successful or otherwise.