A 32-year Ceres resident and successful businessman who personally initiated the collection of funds for the family of slain Newman Police Corporal Ronil Singh found himself at the center of a social media firestorm.
Harinder Toor said he was greatly affected by the death of Singh, who was fatally gunned down during a Dec. 26 traffic stop of a DUI suspect. The two had met during a work project and Toor wanted to help raise money for Singh’s grieving widow and young child who live in northeast Modesto.
“What attracted me to him was his personality and his service to his fellow man,” said Toor. “He had a contagious smile and just an outstanding gentleman. He was just a great guy. We became friends. When I heard about his death it was just devastating.”
The day after the murder, Toor announced on Facebook that he set up a GoFundMe account with the goal of raising $20,000 for Singh’s family. Toor seeded the account with a $1,000 donation which was matched by local businessman Sam Kacho. Toor then notified Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Deputy Tom Letras that as a friend of Singh’s that he was raising money for his family. Within 24 hours the account had raised approximately $16,000. However, the fundraising effort hit the skids when the Stanislaus Sworn Deputy’s Association (SSDA) Facebook page labeled Toor’s effort a “scam.”
The SSDA posted it was collecting money in the “only one approved donation site.” A posting mentioned how officials spoke to Toor twice and claim he agreed to deactivate his GoFundMe account and hand over the funds to Deputy John Gingerich of the SSDA, who is managing its own donation collection for the Singh family. “Once we confirm this is done, we will remove this post,” the SSDA stated on its Facebook page.
“The Sheriff’s Department bullied me into shutting it down so they can control the funds,” said Toor. “And when I shut it down I put up that I needed another $4,000 to help the family out to reach my goal of $20,000 and they labeled me a scam.”
When Toor posted the second goal of $4,000 for the Singh family, the SSDA issued this public rebuke under the title of “Scam Alert”: “We can only be nice so long. This was just posted by Mr. Harinder Singh Toor stating the family needs another $4000. We have staff assigned as family liaisons who have confirmed the Corporal Singh’s family has not made any such request.”
The SSDA posting continued: “Several of our staff have personally spoken to Mr. Harinder Singh Toor about this account and asked him to deactivate it as there is only one approved donation site. Each time he has told us he will, but yet fails to do so. So now we have to take action and call this a scam account. We do not know his intentions with the funds he has collected or why he is asking for more.”
The SSDA then plugged what they called “the only approved donation site” at: https://www.stanislaussworn.com/donation.html
Toor said he will only hand over the funds to Singh’s wife – not the SSDA – and has hired Modesto attorney Tai Bogan to help oversee the transaction as a way of protecting his reputation.
“I don’t know if they want the glory of my good name given to them so they can turn it over or … are they mad because I raised so much money first?” asked Toor.
He suggested that someone in the Sheriff’s Department has an axe to grind because Toor supported Tom Letras over Adam Christianson for sheriff in 2013.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable donating to the Sheriff’s Department. They want to donate directly to the family and that’s what I’ve been transparent about from the beginning.”
Toor said he is offended and hurt by the SSDA’s accusation, saying his charitable causes over the years have helped Ceres Fire Department acquire an arson detecting canine and helped fund the vehicle he rides in.
“The community knows me and has benefitted from me. There’s numerous charities that have benefited from my involvement, from the crisis center to the parent resource center that I donate to handsomely. For one or two individuals to label me as a scam artist has thrown my credibility and goodwill that I’ve established in this community for years and years.”
Pronouncement of Toor’s donation collection efforts as a scam touched off a firestorm of comments from both defenders and detractors. About $1,600 was returned to some donors who wanted their money back. That left $13,121 in the account from 165 donors. Each time a Facebook user defended Toor’s reputation, the SSDA posted this boilerplate response: “We know Mr. Toor is a well respected business owner in our community, but when we ask him on several occasions since Wednesday to work with us and he said he will, but yet does not, we can only become concerned of his intentions. Others who had accounts set up, worked with our team and were able to get the funds moved over. The funds collected by the SSDA are accountable, but cannot say the same about this GoFundMe account.”
Toor said there is “no dashboard or accountability” for the SSDA site but acknowledged how others might feel the same about his intentions.
The controversy did not keep Toor from showing up outside the Stanislaus County Courthouse on Wednesday as a show of support for law enforcement and Blue Lives Matter.
“He was trying to do the right thing and now his integrity was getting question and he wanted to have an accountant or attorney review things to make sure he was doing the right thing,” said Bogan. He said Toor is well connected with friends in the business community with “deeper pockets who can easily put money in to assist with this type of crisis.”
Bogan said he contacted GoFundMe and will arrange for the money transferred to the widow. To channel the money through the SSDA would be a breach of contract.
“The Sheriff’s Department comes with a level of authority and when they come out and say he’s a scammer that holds a lot of weight with people,” said Bogan who called the agency’s actions “irresponsible.”
Attempts to reach Gingerich were unsuccessful.