[Updated: 10:08 p.m.] Nicholas Massimo, Lien’s attorney, spoke with IBTimes and acknowledged that Randall, the GoFundMe campaign creator, has contacted him. But he said he has other pressing issues at the moment and hasn’t immediately decided if he will pursue arrangements to take over the GoFundMe funds. He said there are “legal and accounting implications to consider.” He also reiterated that he doesn’t know Randall or his intentions. “I hope it’s legitimate, but we want to make sure no one is profiting off the client’s name,” he said.
A friend of Lien’s who asked not to be identified also spoke with IBTimes and confirmed that the “For the Liens” Facebook page is not seeking donations at this time.
Lawyers for the SUV driver who was attacked by a group of bikers in upper Manhattan last week are raising questions about a crowd-funding campaign soliciting donations for his recovery.
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Nicholas J. Massimo and Frank C. Panetta, of the law firm Massimo & Panetta, called the campaign on GoFundMe “unauthorized,” saying the person behind it may be using the high-profile attack to take advantage of supporters’ good intentions.
“I can confirm that person may be illegally taking funds,” Panetta told International Business Times in an email. “No one contacted the Liens to get permission to take donations, which means it’s illegitimate and most likely [will] defraud people and the Liens.”
The campaign, Justice for Alexian Lien Family, had raised slightly more than $2,500 as of Monday afternoon. It was launched by a user named Elliott Randall, who describes himself on the website as a “random person of society” and someone who was touched by Lien’s story. In response to an inquiry, Randall said he has been trying to facilitate a way to get the funds to a member of the Lien family or the Liens’ attorney.
“The ideal situation is that either a family member or one of the attorneys can take over the GoFundMe campaign,” Randall said. “After the verification of their identity to me or GoFundMe, I believe they can just take login details from me, and re-verify the account with their own Facebook.”
Randall said he reached out to Massimo and Panetta but has not heard back. (He forwarded an email to the lawyers dated Oct. 5.) He said he is hesitant to turn the funds over to anyone -- including the attorneys -- without proper verification, as he has already been contacted by people claiming to be members of the Lien family. He added that he can’t even be sure that Massimo and Panetta are really Lien’s attorneys and raised suspicion about the fact that they have Hotmail and AOL email addresses.
“I made it clear in the email to them there would need to be some sort of verification, something that might scare off a scam artist,” he said.
A phone call to Panetta’s office asking if he had received Randall’s email was not immediately returned. The law website Justica.com includes records for the firm Massimo & Panetta dating back to at least 2006.
According to Randall, GoFundMe is holding the funds in a reserve account until they can be transferred to the Liens. A representative for the crowd-funding site would not confirm or deny this, however. “Private information of our users’ accounts will never be shared publicly with members of the media,” the representative said.
According to GoFundMe’s terms, campaign creators may request to withdraw funds at any time during the fundraising process -- a policy that sets it apart from more stringent crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter, which holds funds until campaigns are finished and goals are reached. The website advises visitors to donate only to people they personally know and trust, and says “users should not expect to receive support from strangers.” At the same time, GoFundMe puts few restrictions on campaign parameters and says users may use the site to raise money for almost anything.
The GoFundMe representative said that if the website “ever has reason to believe there is fraudulent or abusive activity taking place on its site, the appropriate action will always be taken to protect donors.”
Lien, a financial-services professional and graduate of Columbia University, was attacked on Sept. 30 after a confrontation with a group of bikers led to a high-speed chase up the West Side Highway. One biker, Jeremiah Edwin Mieses, was critically injured when he was struck by Lien’s vehicle. After a video of the chase was uploaded to YouTube, the incident went viral, leading to an outpouring of community support for Lien.
A Facebook support page launched by friends of the Lien family is not currently soliciting donations.