WESTMINSTER, Colo. (KDVR) — A Westminster man devoted to catching pedophiles is now catching criticism from former supporters who learned his claims of being a nonprofit were not accurate.
Tommy Fellows operates Colorado Ped Patrol, which uses online decoys to lure possible pedophiles into a public area where the suspect is then confronted by Fellows on camera during a YouTube live stream. The operation raises money through online donations, but tax experts and the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office said not all of the fund-raising has been done properly.
By his own estimate, Fellows claimed he has 850 members who pay at least $4.99 a month to be notified of his live streams. Many of the live streams are not of Fellows “catching” a pedophile but of him talking about his operation and answering online questions from viewers.
One example from a YouTube clip is Fellows reading and then answering a question from a woman who identified herself as Solanda: “I’m a new supporter. I want to donate more, but can you confirm that CPP is a 501(c)(3)? I need to know it so I can.”
“Of course it is, Solanda, it is, yes. … And yes you can get a receipt,” he replies.
Only 850 of his 100,000 YouTube channel subscribers may pay monthly dues, but others donate through what are called “live chats.” The online service Playboard tracks more than $55,000 in live chats to Colorado Ped Patrol over about 18 months.
Some Colorado Ped Patrol supporters lose faith
The Problem Solvers reviewed hours of footage from the Colorado Ped Patrol YouTube page and repeatedly, online donors would ask Fellows if he’s a 501(c)(3), a nonprofit tax-exempt organization where donations are tax deductible. He repeatedly assured them CPP was a nonprofit for the purpose of tax deductions.
Penny Ortiz is one former donor who told the Problem Solvers she and her husband felt misled.
Oritiz said she donated nearly $800 to Colorado Ped Patrol, but when she or her husband asked Fellows for receipts, “He never responded to us. My husband got banned off Tommy live (chats) because he wouldn’t respond to my husband.”
Ortiz is the only critic who was willing to share her name with FOX31, although we spoke to nearly 10 other former supporters who said they no longer believe anything Fellows says. Except for Ortiz, everyone else who spoke to the Problem Solvers requested anonymity because they said the moment you question Fellows, his online supporters turn on you.
“If you leave Tommy, you start going against Tommy, they start calling people pedos,” said one woman, who told FOX31 she used to volunteer as a decoy.
She said she set up underage profiles to help Fellows lure would-be pedophiles. But she soon became disillusioned with him after she said he mistook an innocent person for a pedophile during a live stream.
“This person was around the same age, they did look similar on a picture, not in person, they lived with their parents — so everything kind of fell in place until we realized it was actually not the right person,” said the former decoy, who added that Fellows offered the person no apology.
“You put the wrong person on video, even if it’s for 15 minutes before you can pull that video down, it’s going to affect them,” she said.
She too donated money for a cause she no longer supports.
“Close to $3,000. I know for one sting alone, I think it was for the Texas trip, I donated $850,” she said.
She shared email documentation of what she spent but she won’t share where she lives, saying it would risk further doxing, which she blamed on Fellows’ supporters.
“I started getting threats, I started getting calls, my 14-year-old son got a threat on his cell phone,” she said.
In fact, FOX31 obtained a screenshot of one of Fellows’ supporters asking during a live chat, “Tommy, can we doxx Rob Low,” and another wrote, “Reporter is probably a pedo,” after Fellows complained to his viewers about an interview he had just granted to FOX31 investigative reporter Rob Low, the author of this report.
Another former supporter, who went by the online name Atari, said he saw online bullying any time someone would ask for tax-deductible receipts.
“I got to a point where I was even afraid to ask for receipts for the donations I made and the monthly memberships that I paid for because I didn’t want to be mistreated. I didn’t want to be bullied,” he said.
The man who goes by the screen name Atari remembered what Fellows would claim during his live chats.
“He would regularly say, ‘I’m a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, you can claim these donations on your taxes,’ countless amount of times, and I believed him,” he said.
The Problem Solvers interview Tommy Fellows
The Problem Solvers interviewed Fellows at his home and asked him if knew that telling people he was a nonprofit for tax deduction purposes was illegal. He responded, “No, I didn’t know that was illegal.”
The state of Colorado requires nonprofits to register as a charity with the Secretary of State to solicit donations. Fellows acknowledged, “No, I never did that.”
In June, Fellows stopped claiming to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit but told FOX31 he never had to begin with, even though more than a year of his YouTube videos prove otherwise.
“It was never said, and I will challenge you to that. Pull up a video and I will challenge you to that,” Fellows said.
Minutes after Fellows said that, FOX31 showed Fellows one of his former online clips where he can be seen responding to someone on YouTube, who had asked if donations were tax write-offs: “They are, they are. If you ever need a receipt, let me know and I’ll get it to you,” Fellows said.
“You said I’ll provide you a receipt and that’s not true, is it?” FOX31 asked Fellows.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I truly don’t know,” Fellows said.
Fellows claimed because he has a “certificate of good standing” with the state of Colorado, he thought he was allowed to operate as a nonprofit organization that accepts tax-free donations. But under Colorado law, nonprofits have to register as a charity to solicit any donations, tax-deductible or otherwise, and the Secretary of State’s Office told FOX31 what Fellows already admits: He never did.
“That is breaking the law. The law is the law, white is white, black is black, Tommy broke the law,” former supporter Ortiz said.
State reviewing complaints about Colorado Ped Patrol
Neither the IRS or the Colorado Attorney General’s Office will acknowledge if it’s investigating Fellows, but critics of his told the Problem Solvers they have filed complaints at the federal and state level.
In an email, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office said, “The Department has received a complaint regarding Colorado Ped Patrol, and is currently reviewing it.”
When told he would have to open up his financial books if he became a legitimate 501(c)(3), Fellows replied, “Absolutely, absolutely. I’m not going to, I’ll open my books, but I’m not going to open my books to just some random Joe that calls me and says open your books.”
When told that he’d have to if he became a 501(c)(3), he responded, “Well, I’m not a 501(c)(3).”
Under Colorado Law, nonprofits have to have a board, but one person can make up the entire board, and by Fellows’ own admission, he’s the lone board member of Colorado Ped Patrol.
Fellows eventually told FOX31 that whatever the state rules are, he would follow them, and he claimed he would refund money to anyone who wants their donation returned.
His critics told FOX31 they’re skeptical that anyone who seeks a refund now will ever get it.