- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

Among the casualties of Bernard Madoff’s purported Ponzi scheme is a small charity with a big reputation for helping civilians caught in the crossfire of conflict.

The Campaign for Innocent Victims In Conflict (CIVIC) has had to lay off one of its four employees and give up its office, and will likely have to scale back its work. The group’s founder, Marla Ruzicka, was killed in 2005 while helping victims in Iraq.

“We’re looking at our strategic plan and just basically red-lining things,” said Sarah Holewinski, CIVIC’s executive director. “What it means to us is there are war victims who would not get the help we ensured.”

The group lost a $50,000 grant from the JEHT Foundation, a national philanthropic organization that closed this month after losing its money. The foundation’s finances had been managed by Mr. Madoff, who stands accused of perpetrating a decades-long $50 billion fraud.

A federal judge Tuesday in New York denied a prosecution request that Mr. Madoff have his bond revoked, allowing the accused to remain under house arrest while he awaits trial.

A Ponzi scheme involves paying early investors artificially high returns with funds collected from later investors until the money runs out and the scheme collapses.

The money lost by CIVIC is far less than many of the dozens of other charities affected by the Madoff scandal. Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, lost $90 million investing with Mr. Madoff. The Jewish charity’s endowment still stands at more than $400 million, though its leadership has made an urgent call for donations.

But the case of CIVIC illustrates how devastating the Madoff case has been for smaller charities.

CIVIC relies totally on grants from foundations and private donations, and that $50,000 grant was the only guaranteed money it had coming in for 2009. Ms. Holewinski called losing the grant “absolutely devastating.”

The organization has a $350,000 budget. Compounding the problems is that donations are down about 40 percent, according to Ms. Holewinski. She said CIVIC still needs about $200,000. Until a supporter in Europe gave a large donation last month, Ms. Holewinski said there was a real prospect that the organization would have to close entirely.

Supporters said losing CIVIC would take away the only group doing the type of work it does.

“It would be horrible to see this effort linger or even stall, because we are living in times when people with that special humanitarian mindset are desperately needed,” said Kari Mokko, press secretary for the Finnish Embassy, which has held a fundraiser for the group. “The ultimate price is, of course, paid by the innocent civilians in conflict zones.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, has been a strong supporter of the group and has sponsored legislation to name a program to aid Iraqi war victims after Ms. Ruzicka.

“CIVIC has done exemplary work advocating for compensation for the families of innocent victims of war, including those killed as a result of our mistakes,” Mr. Leahy said. “It would be a real loss if they were forced to close their door for lack of funding.”

Ms. Ruzicka was 27 when she was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq. Her work and death drew extensive press coverage and many donations are made in her name, according to Ms. Holewinski.


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