Norwalk family says friend's fundraiser was a scam

NORWALK Hidden behind the cigarette rack at Dave's Food Mart inNorwalk is a plastic donation jug.
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

NORWALK

Hidden behind the cigarette rack at Dave's Food Mart inNorwalk is a plastic donation jug.

It wasn't always there. It was on the counter until Wednesday night, but employees figured it was best to stow it away until police finish their investigation.

Taped to the front of the jug is a handwritten note asking formoney in the memory of Harley Weltlin Jr. Beneath the note is a photograph of the baby sleeping.

Harley died suddenly Nov. 13, four months after he was born and only hours before his doctor's appointment.

His parents -- Norwalk residents Harley Weltlin Sr. and Brooke Poe -- still don't know what killed their son, though Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is suspected.

The death of their child was the most painful thing to ever happen to the couple. But the mostdisturbing thing to happen to them allegedly took place within thelast four weeks, and may still be going on.

Friends and family members claim a longtime friend of Weltlin is using the tragedy to his profit. Instead of conducting a fundraiser, he's accused of conducting a scam.

"I had a lot of trust in him,"Weltlin said. "And he set it all up, but it was for his benefit."

After Harley's death, the friend -- who is not named pending a criminal investigation -- told the family he would oversee a donation drive to help cover funeral costs.

Money is tight at the Poe-Weltlin household. The couple have another son and Poe is a stay-at-home mom. Weltlin has medical issues and collects social security.

Without being asked, Weltlin's friend of 15-plus years stepped forward and said he would raise the funds necessary to purchase a headstone. Friends thought it was a noble thing to do.

He put about 38 plastic jugs in gas stations and grocery stores across Norwalk and Willard. Each features a photo of the baby and brief summary of the family's tragic situation.

The problem is that not a dime has been deposited in a bank account in the deceased child's name, Weltlin said.

And friends say they caught the man under suspicion earlier this week cashing change from a bucket at a shopping center.

Kelly Maynard, 36, a family friend from Norwalk, said when they confronted the man about this, he could not keep his story straight.

"The guy was dumping change in a change machine," Maynard said. "The guy was real nervous when they were talking to him."

Suspicions aroused, friends and family called the businesses that put out the jugs.

An employee at one business said the man "has come in here three times and got these buckets, and set another one out again," Maynard said.

And still, baby Harley's account grew not a penny larger.

Maynard said he and several other friends slipped more than $300 into jugs in the area. He shudders to imagine where the money actually ended up.

Norwalk police Det. Dave McDonough confirmed the family made a criminal complaint. He declined further comment at this point in his investigation.

Friends and family members urge people who donated to the jugs in question to contact the police. They say they want to determine how much might have been stolen.

"Whoever donated to that should come forward and let the police know, so we can get something done about it," Weltlin said.