OGDEN -- As far as the law knows, there's only one difference between the family of Matthew David Stewart asking for money to pay their son's legal bills in the shooting death of a policeman and the family of a sick child asking for money to pay hospital bills: Someone complained about the Stewart family.
Other than that, all things being equal, both situations are private charities seeking public donations. Both have to follow the law.
That means, said Utah Division of Consumer Affairs Director Traci Gundersen, both must either register as charities with the state or get an exemption to the registration law.
If they fail to do either, they risk legal trouble, including a fine.
Matthew David Stewart is charged with killing a police officer and could face the death penalty.
Gundersen said Stewart's family is registering to get a permit to raise funds. The process takes about 20 days.
But here's the kicker: Gundersen said families and local groups solicit funds in Utah all the time without registering or getting an exemption. Those charities don't get into trouble because the only way her division learns of them is if someone complains.
"That's what happened with the Matthew David Stewart family. I think they ended up feeling targeted, and I don't know if that's their mentality, but we're complaint-driven."
She said when a complaint comes in, she sends a letter asking the charity to stop fundraising and to register.
"If we send somebody a letter, and they don't register and we find they're still raising money," then she will go after them, she said.
Gundersen said her office received numerous complaints questioning fundraising both by the Stewart family and by groups representing the police officers involved in the shooting.
The division investigated both. She said most of the fundraising for the police is by entities that already existed, "and those kind of entities are already registered; they're looking for things to do."
Stewart's family is a new charity.
"He can raise as much money as he wants to. He just has to do it legally," she said.
Stewart is accused of killing Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force Agent Jared Francom during a strike force raid Jan. 4 on Stewart's home.
Stewart claims he did not know the people with guns entering his home were strike force agents serving a search warrant. In the ensuing gun battle, Francom was killed and five other agents wounded.
There has been a massive outpouring of public donations to help the families of the officers. The money is being divided among the families to use as they see fit.
Faced with mounting legal bills, the Stewart family set up a website, www.helpmatthewstewart.org, in February also asking for money.
Last week, following complaints, the Division of Consumer Affairs wrote the family telling it to stop. On Friday, the website started raising money again, then on Monday, it stopped again.
Gundersen said her division is charged with regulating all charities.
"The purpose of this charitable solicitation act is to protect the public from people who say, 'I've got this great cause, you should donate money,' " and then steal the money, she said.
Charities that register have to show how they spend the money, "and you will see that there are some charities out there where it will cost 95 cents in administrative fees for every dollar they raise."
Registration also protects the public from fraud, she said.
After the shootout at Stewart's home, several Top of Utah residents said they received phone calls from groups soliciting funds that turned out to be frauds.
Gundersen said some groups can get an exemption to the registration law.
Exemptions are given to police and fire departments, schools, education foundations, newspaper and broadcast businesses that donate space for charitable groups and similar activities.
Sick children qualify for an exemption, she said, but all the money raised must be used to pay direct medical bills.
Exemptions are easy to get. Just mail her a letter with a letter from the doctor verifying the situation, "and we will work with you."
Bank of Utah Vice President Scott Parkinson said people often set up "donative accounts" at the bank. The bank makes sure they have proper tax ID numbers, he said, but does not ensure they have registered with the state.
That is the job of the people running the charity, Parkinson said.
Technically speaking, Gundersen said, even people who put notices in obituaries asking for donations in lieu of flowers should register.
However, she said, "we don't go trolling obits because we realize this is a very sensitive subject. If someone wanted to complain, we would wait awhile and then ask them to show us where the money went."