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Opposition Arises to Charities’ Merger

     For the last decade, Smile Train and Operation Smile have been the Hatfields and McCoys of the charity world.  Leaders of the two organizations, which work to repair cleft lips and palates of children in poor countries, have long been estranged. Even though Smile Train’s founders at one time served on the board of Operation Smile, they and its founders, Dr. William P. Magee and his wife, Kathleen S. Magee, ran separate charities with similar goals while remaining divided by their differences year after year. So the announcement on Feb. 14 that the two organizations were merging seemed, at least on the surface, an effort to set aside the longstanding feud in the interests of a greater good.
    http://wdalaw.com/trademark-registration/trademark-registration-brasil.php But as it turns out, according to some board members, the merger was the culmination of another feud, one that had been quietly building in Smile Train’s offices and board room between Brian Mullaney, a co-founder and former advertising executive, and Smile Train’s other founder, Charles B. Wang, owner of the New York Islanders and the founder and former chairman of Computer Associates.

    In the nonprofit equivalent of a putsch, Mr. Wang and four Smile Train board members who are also employees of his businesseses engineered the merger and presented it as a fait accompli at a regularly scheduled board meeting on Feb. 8, board members who opposed it said.

    The opponents initially balked and have now complained to the New York attorney general’s office. They contend that Mr. Wang set up a highly unusual financial structure under the merger.

    The controversial deal gives Mr. Wang oversight of the bulk of Smile Train’s roughly $160 million in assets, and it guarantees lifetime tenure at the new organization to the Magees.

    Additionally, it commits the merged organization to put half of all the money it raises over the next three years into a fund under Mr. Wang’s control.

    “It’s kind of like handing the New York Yankees over to a high school team,” said Mark Edward Atkinson, a Smile Train board member who opposed the merger. “Operation Smile gets a partner and a $50 million dowry, and Smile Train fires its senior executives, all of whom are great, and the organization and money move to Virginia,” where Operation Smile is based.

    Mr. Wang, through an intermediary, Andrew Frank, a public relations executive hired to be a spokesman for Smile Train during the merger, has declined to comment. Mr. Frank defended the merger, saying it would create a larger, more efficient organization. “The idea is to help more children, and this merger will do that,” he said.

    Mr. Mullaney declined to comment.

    Smile Train’s donors are upset. “It kind of dropped like a bombshell,” said Christopher Meloni, the actor who plays Detective Elliot Stabler on the TV show “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and a Smile Train donor. “I don’t know much about these things, but it really sounds like the fox got loose in the chicken house,” Mr. Meloni said.

    William Conway, a partner at the Carlyle Group, resigned as a member of Smile Train’s advisory board shortly after the vote. “Your new organization will be receiving no additional contributions from me and the Bedford Falls Foundation,” Mr. Conway wrote in a terse e-mail on Feb. 16, referring to his foundation. “Frankly, I would like to get my past contributions returned, as I am afraid that the money will be wasted.”

    Smile Train is a spinoff of Operation Smile, where Mr. Mullaney and Mr. Wang sat on the board for a brief time. They resigned in 1998, expressing concerns about the organization’s medical practices.

    The New York Times in 1999 wrote two articles that highlighted those medical issues, including charges that children had died. The articles prompted an internal review that was never made public, though Operation Smile announced changes in its operations to improve its medical work.

    The two organizations have different models. Smile Train spends its money training and equipping local doctors in China, India and elsewhere to do the operations as they are needed. Operation Smile pays to fly doctors and equipment around the world, providing services episodically.

    Smile Train has supported more than 600,000 surgical procedures since its founding, to Operation Smile’s more than 160,000 since it began, according to their Web sites.

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Opposition Arises to Charities’ Merger

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