Nothing seemed certain about Terri Schiavo's death. Now there are questions about a tax exempt organization formed in her honor.
Once America's most public and bitter family feud, a new round of finger-pointing includes a claim that surviving relatives are illegally using her name to make money.
Schiavo's personal tragedy initially captivated the nation after she spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state and her family spent seven years in litigation. Her husband, Michael, petitioned to have her taken off of life support, claiming that she wouldn't have wanted to continue the measures in her condition. His efforts were opposed by Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, who contended that their daughter was still conscious. Both the White House and Congress got involved, but the Supreme Court refused multiple requests to hear the case. Her feeding tube was eventually removed and she passed away in 2005.
Five years later, a new controversy is brewing.
In an interview with WTSP in Florida, Michael Schiavo says that the courts gave him "intangible rights to his wife's name" and that the Schindlers have been operating the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation without his permission. Adding to the controversy, a 2008 tax return shows that the nonprofit organization spent nearly 65% of their contributions and grants on salaries for the Schindler family, while simultaneously losing over $34,000. "They are using their deceased sister's name to make money," he told the station.
The family's compensation was far from extravagant. Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother, had the highest salary. He reported making just under $30,000 for the year while working an average of 40 hours per week. All together, three family members were paid just $59,275 -- but the organization only collected $91,568.
According to additional tax records obtained by the Huffington Post, the organization spent a more modest 30% on salaries the previous year ($47,906 out of $161,551).
The attorney for the foundation maintains the high percentage of revenue going to salaries is because of the lack of money the foundation raises. [David] Gibbs says the Schindlers are doing their non-profit work cost effectively and it should be viewed as an accomplishment. The Foundation also says the use of Terri Schiavo's name is proper because she is a public figure, and that Michael Schiavo has no right to challenge them.
In the 2008 tax filing, the foundation lists its achievements as conducting "numerous public education seminars in various locations throughout the world. The organization also established a weekly radio program called America's Lifeline, heard on a local Tampa radio station and streamed via internet all over the world."
WTSP made multiple attempts to speak with the Schindler family but all questions were directed to their attorney. Michael Schiavo says they should be ashamed.