In March 2015, the socialite directors and affiliates of a prominent Houston charity for cancer patients and survivors received a puzzling postcard from the charity’s founder.
Beth Sanders Moore, 60, whose smiling face was regularly splashed across the society pages, was notifying everyone that she and her husband, Jess, were moving to Dallas. It was a surprise — CancerForward, the online directory for people seeking information about cancer treatment and support groups, had been a labor of love for Moore. A few years earlier, she had beaten breast cancer and had been inducted into the Houston Chronicle’s Best Dressed Hall of Fame. It was the stuff of champions.
Now, according to the card, five years after launching the charity, whose galas at Saks and The Houston Country Club were some of the social season’s glitziest, Beth was taking a development position at UT-Southwestern Medical Center. The card provided new cell numbers for her and Jess, along with a post office box number.
No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow, the card read. Warmest wishes for a healthy and prosperous year ahead!
It was so Beth: tasteful, polite and obsessed with appearance.
There simply wasn’t enough room on the elegant card, nor would it have been proper etiquette, to explain that Beth’s money—raising days in Houston high society might be over. The stink of desperation was seeping through her Donna Karan and following her around like a gaudy, off-the-rack cloud.
She and Jess, a non-practicing attorney, had refused to repay several hundred thousand dollars they had borrowed from some former friends in 2004. The story was that their company, a temp staffing firm for attorneys, had run into a little trouble and they just needed a short-term loan. Their friends, Patsy and Greg Fourticq, were a high-profile couple on the party circuit, well-respected and well-known for their generosity and support of MD Anderson and the March of Dimes. Similarly notable was their son, Greg Jr., a fashion designer who launched the successful Moo Boo’s and TimesTwo clothing lines after making a name for himself at Calvin Klein and Donna Karan in New York. Patsy and Greg Sr. would do anything to help a friend. When Beth came to them, the Fourticqs agreed to a loan that eventually cost a friendship.
Beth had been turned down by just about all of her well-heeled friends, who she hit up at a series of lunches at La Griglia in River Oaks. Many of these people couldn’t understand why the Moores couldn’t seek help from a bank. Word was that one of those solicited had asked Beth to post her jewelry as collateral.
May as well have told Beth to chop off her arm.
A few weeks before the card went out, Beth and Jess quietly moved out of their $430,000 two-bedroom condo in River Oaks’ posh Four Leaf Towers. It was all very hush-hush, sort of like the line items on the federal tax returns for CancerForward, a nonprofit with no paid employees, no office and debatable substance. Most of the money raised at CancerForward’s galas went to cover its nebulous IT services, which were said to run about $230,000 annually. (The organization’s reported yearly grants and contributions range from $131,000-$456,000.)
The Moores, along with the organization’s co-founders, and the directors contacted by the Houston Press, have declined to disclose the providers of the services.(CancerForward’s IRS filings meet federal guidelines and show expenditures by category – i.e., printing, advertising, accounting, etc. Charities are not required to further itemize the expenses in each category – there is no legal requirement for CancerForward to disclose anything beyond the total sum for IT services or any other expense.)
Since launching in 2010, CancerForward has received $1.76 million in donations and grants, with roughly $986,000 (56 percent) of that going to IT services. But other reported expenses seemed similarly vague. In the charity’s 2014 filing, the second-biggest expenditure after IT services is $28,726 spent on something identified only as “survivor, donor & volunteer.” That was followed by the nebulous “other costs” line item, totaling $27,422. With no one from CancerForward willing to explain what these categories actually are, it’s hard to make sense of those numbers.
Beth and fellow CancerForward founders have said their website succeeds by collecting helpful, patient-friendly information from disparate sources and organizing it into one cohesive site. But CancerForward seems to be duplicating services provided by large organizations like the American Cancer Society or the patient resources offered by Houston’s top-tier cancer research centers.
Those previously or currently involved with the organization also declined to explain why the Moores, who defaulted on $800,000 in loans from a former business partner for a failed attorney staffing venture, were the right folks to handle other people’s money. Beth had launched CancerForward with another former business partner — an ex-Enron trader named Brian Cruver — after she and Jess filed for bankruptcy in order to try to wriggle out of $640,000 in federal tax liens and hundreds of thousands more owed to Saks, Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Brooks Brothers, Ford Motor Company (they wanted the Jaguar back) and other creditors, including her brother, an East Texas attorney.
The lack of transparency over how Cancer-Forward handled expenses is allegedly the reason that four of the charity’s original directors resigned on the same day in September 2012. The lack of transparency also extends to everyone who spoke to the Press for this story – including former friends and CancerForward donors – who requested anonymity. They expressed concern over their inability to find the names of the vendors who were providing the IT services. Non-profits must disclose conflicts of interest in tax returns, and the former board members did not feel they had enough information to rule out any conflicts of interest. But they also expressed embarrassment over having been duped, and a wariness of violating a high society anti-snitching ordinance. (*After roughly two weeks of not responding to emails or phone calls seeking comment for this story, Jess Moore emailed Houston Press Editor Margaret Downing the morning the story appeared online. In addition to putting her on notice that he and Beth have "retained legal counsel," he stated that "My wife and I have no ownership interest in any other for-profit company nor do we hold offices in any for-profit company. All business entities in which my wife or I previously had an ownership interest and/or were officers concluded operations and were appropriately closed according to the laws of the State of Texas.")
Cancer was tragic. But publicly chastising a fellow one-percenter — even a faux one — for exploiting that tragedy was simply gauche.
That the Moores have benefited from this code of silence is undeniable; that Houston’s wealthiest have essentially bankrolled website designers in the guise of lifting a finger for cancer sufferers is mind-boggling — that is, until you factor in what they get in return: society’s recognition. In exchange for writing checks to CancerForward, the Bayou City’s most fabulous — an extraordinarily generous crowd who trusted the board to spend the money wisely — continue to be seen at the right events, rub shoulders with the right people and have their photos in the Chronicle, CultureMap, PaperCity and Houstonia.
The society pages preserved the donors’ fabulousness in amber. After all, what good is philanthropy without flattering photos?
Beth Sanders Moore has a hell of a story, and she tells it well. And often.
The Marshall native told it to her hometown paper in 2010, in an article celebrating CancerForward’s launch. She explained how she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, on her 46th birthday.
“It was a particular time when I was being honored for something, and there was a luncheon. I knew at that time that I was probably going to be wearing a wig at the luncheon,” she said. The article states that she “used the event as an opportunity to reveal her diagnosis and make everyone aware of the importance of screening and early detection.”
Beth told the paper, “I got many, many calls from not only breast cancer survivors, but other types of cancer survivors, just wanting someone to talk to and looking for information about the physical and emotional sides of cancer.” (The article points out that — apparently unlike all those other websites that keep bankers’ hours and are closed on Columbus Day — CancerForward.org “is available 24 hours, seven days a week.”)
This led to the formation of Cancer-Forward, which, the article states, “is unique because survivors have an opportunity to create their own community and share experiential information with fellow survivors.”
The charity’s mission statement and programs are described in greater detail on its IRS forms. The 2014 filing states that CancerForward “provides a comprehensive source of mission-related educational programs, resources for those afflicted with cancer, access to cancer survivorship programs, and peer support to survivors of all cancers. Its objective is to reduce the risk of recurring & second cancers by expanding healthy lifestyle & after-treatment planning to all – including those whose access to cancer care is limited by geography & socio-economic barriers.”
The filing also states that survivors, as well as their friends and families, turn to CancerForward for “expert guidance” and emotional support. It also boasts of “public awareness cancer survivorship campaigns, events, and forums,” without going into much detail.
CancerForward’s not-so-secret weapon, though, has always been Beth. Her ability to connect with wealthy donors and draw publicity has helped make CancerForward a darling of social season fundraisers. Her story about the wig and luncheon has helped get the job done. It has to, because if anyone actually stopped for a second to think about the website itself, he or she might wonder what services it actually provides and why its bandwith costs at least $220,000 a year. Better to just trust the extremely well-appointed, well-spoken, gracious and charming East Texan who beat the odds and came out on the other end simply wanting to help people.
The story had to work, because asking people to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to a website you started with an ex-Enron trader is a harder sell. If you open with that, the potential donor might ask you how the average person with cancer in Houston or Lubbock or Poughkeepsie might be helped by CancerForward, and then you might have to answer.
It’s best if you go someplace where there are no questions. It’s best if you go to Houston society.
Beth and Jess managed to infiltrate that rarified air before the advent of Cancer-Forward, even while their company, Ad Hoc Legal Resources, was hemorrhaging money.
Beth was a sixth-generation Marshall native and graduate of Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, and was, according to her Cancer-Forward bio, “a president of the charter pledge class which founded Kappa Alpha Theta at the university.” Her father, Jack, was a well-respected veterinarian and pillar of Marshall. Jess was a graduate of Centenary College in Louisiana and, later, South Texas College of Law. Beth made most of the inroads; one former friend described Jess as having an air of “country come to town.”
But Beth didn’t seem to require much polish; she came about it naturally. She knew how to name-drop subtly, casually, without the use of last names. She dripped Katy Briscoe jewelry and came swaddled in Yves Saint Laurent and Manolo Blahnik. She had a close friend in New York fashion designer Bill Hamilton, who lunched with Jackie Kennedy Onassis when he worked as a design director for Carolina Herrera. Hamilton, whose partner was the late Studio 54 impresario Steve Rubell, opened the doors to Manhattan society and lent Beth real credibility.
Ad Hoc Legal Resources seemed to provide her enough money to have the leisure time so necessary to attend grip-and-grin charitable functions. A 2001 Houston Chronicle article celebrating her Best Dressed ascendancy noted how, even though she was battling cancer, she was still able to work on behalf of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Sheltering Arms Alzheimer’s Day Centers and the Textile and Costume Institute of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Remarkably, she was able to snag the Best Dressed title even though she had to swap her “Manolo Blahnik heels for J.P. Tod’s drivers, sports pants from the Gap and cotton shirts by Rayure of Paris.” (And while she had three new wigs, she preferred “turbans fashioned from her large collection of Hermes scarves.”)
Her reputation was further solidified by a partnership with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. A gushing 2005 Chronicle article noted how Jess “set the wheels in motion for a family gift to MD Anderson that would fund, in his wife’s name, the nation’s first comprehensive educational and research program for young breast cancer survivors. As a result of a gift from the Baldwin Sanders Moore Family Fund [whatever that was], MD Anderson has named its undiagnosed breast clinic in Beth’s honor.”
According to the article, written in true -society-splooge fashion, Beth thought she was just joining a tour of the hospital’s new ambulatory clinic in honor of her 50th birthday when Jess appeared from the ether and surprised her with the news.
“MD Anderson vice president of development Patrick Mulvey escorted Beth on the building tour with a final stop on the fifth floor where they were greeted in the clinic by a chorus of family and doctors offering a booming ‘Happy Birthday.’ It was there that a teary-eyed Beth learned of the new Beth Sanders Moore Young Breast Cancer Survivors Program” and of the clinic in her name. (The celebration continued at the River Oaks Country Club, where Beth and Jess were joined by family members.)
There was, of course, no follow-up article detailing how Beth’s name was subsequently removed from the wall, and an MD Anderson spokeswoman declined comment, as did former MD Anderson president John Mendelsohn and his wife, Anne. Anne had attended the surprise dedication.
It may have had something to do with the fact that, at the time of the announcement, there was no entity called the “Baldwin Sanders Moore Family Fund” registered with the Texas Secretary of State. That wouldn’t happen until the following year, when a company called Elsamoco assumed the fund’s name. The fund failed to pay its fees to the Secretary of State, and lost its charter in 2010, but re-emerged in 2013, only to ditch the fund name and revert to Elsamoco. (The sole manager for this entity was Norman Spratling, who will become important later in this story.)
Whatever the reason for Beth’s name being removed from the wall, the result of having it there in the first place was Baccarat-clear: Beth obtained MD Anderson branding. This would become perhaps the single most important factor in how she could raise money for a website with “cancer” in its name.
If anyone had bothered to look into the Moores’ finances at the time of the 2005 hospital tour, they might have wondered how the couple could afford a light rail ride to the cancer clinic bearing Beth’s name.
Court records indicate that the couple were living off credit cards, as was their sole surviving company, Ad Hoc Legal Resources. A few online ventures were dead on arrival, including a résumé- and college application essay-writing service called Pathwinner.com. (The site was a brand name falling under the umbrella of a company called P2C Interactive, founded in 2000 by Beth, Jess and future CancerForward founder Brian Cruver. Cruver would go on to write a book, Anatomy of Greed, about his time at Enron, which was adapted into a marvelous TV movie, The Crooked E, in which a raven-haired, short-skirted HR rep with a thick Southern accent actually says the words “Welcome to Enron, y’all!”)
According to state and federal bankruptcy court records, the Moores hadn’t paid property taxes or federal income taxes for years, and by 2004, Ad Hoc was imploding. Beth turned to her friends, asking for a short-term loan. Patsy and Greg Fourticq lent them more than $100,000. (Patsy declined to disclose the actual amount, but sources familiar with the transaction told the Press it was $500,000.)
The two couples had been friends for years, and the Moores were at one time frequent guests at the Fourticqs’ Colorado Springs summer home, built with flagstone imported from India and featuring a veranda with a view of Pikes Peak. The home was featured in a 2010 CultureMap piece, which noted, “One astonishing feature of the house is the massive 10-inch thick piece of white flagstone, 12-feet long by 44-inches wide, that serves as the base of the double-sided fireplace that opens to both the dining and living areas. It took 20 workers to carry the piece into the house and place it on its base before the fireplace and adjacent walls were built.”
The Moores made a few small payments, but stopped all payments after two years, Patsy says. After a while, the Fourticqs — a deeply religious couple — just asked that Beth and Jess make small donations to the Roman Catholic Church whenever they could. But eventually, Patsy says, Jess wouldn’t even return Greg’s calls.
Things came to a head around 2011, when both couples met at the upscale St. Regis Hotel for breakfast in order to have an awkward discussion about the outstanding loan. According to Patsy, Jess wound up losing his cool and stormed out. She says she hasn’t talked to the Moores since.
The incident drew a dividing line in the sand of Houston society, according to a former friend. Unfortunately, no one was on the Moores’ side of that line. It hit people hard, because Beth was genuinely well-liked and well-respected, and she had forged especially close bonds with fellow cancer survivors.
It’s “almost like a bond with a sibling,” the former friend says. “Because you both technically have been though a near-death experience, survived it and at the same time are in constant fear that it’s going to come back and get you.”
So if someone says he could use your money to help other members of this unfortunate club no one wants to belong to, “You say, ‘Absolutely, I’ll help you out…it would almost be like a bad-luck curse to say, ‘No, I can’t do it.’ And they did that with a lot of people.”
Because speaking out would have been taboo, the few people who knew the Moores were broke kept it to themselves. To everyone else, Beth seemed perfectly at ease in high society. If you weren’t in the habit of checking court records, there would be no reason to think they were living off credit cards and was mortgaged to the hilt.
“There is no money,” the former friend says. “There never was any money…They were living hand to mouth. Very big hands and very big mouths.”
The former friend says there’s a phrase for that particular strain of social climber: “Paint what you ain’t.”
Around the time the Moores borrowed money from the Fourticqs, they rolled Ad Hoc’s assets (and name) into a new entity called Adinfinit. They then took out two high-price loans; one came as an approximately $300,000 personal loan from their former Ad Hoc business partner, Roger Fridholm, who lives in Michigan. The second loan was approximately $500,000 from Fridholm’s company, IPG. This note was secured by Adinfinit’s accounts receivable. Four months after the personal loan from Fridholdm’s trust, the Moores filed for personal bankruptcy protection. Their company, Adinfinit, filed for bankruptcy protection five months after the second loan, in 2007.
Court records show that Adinfinit was controlled by Norman Spratling, the sole manager of the defunct Baldwin Sanders Moore Family Fund, which had committed funding to the MD Anderson clinic in Beth’s name. (Spratling could not be reached for comment, and his brother denied the Press’s request to let him know he would be the subject of a story.)
The Moores and Spratling defaulted on the loans, and Fridholm and IPG sued them in 2010. The Moores and Spratling didn’t bother showing up for court, so Fridholm won a default judgment, which did him a fat lot of good. (The case was settled in June, and the terms are confidential.)
In the lawsuit, Fridholm and IPG claimed that Adinfinit’s outstanding accounts were fake, alleging that “The fraud occurred when Adinfinit sold to IPG a series of alleged accounts receivable that were later found to be non-existent, consisting of nothing more than bogus invoices for services never provided to Adinfinit’s clients.”
Unable to recoup his losses directly from Spratling and the Moores, Fridholm went after a modest family trust operated by Beth’s brother, Jack Sanders. Fridholm sued the trust, arguing that any proceeds owed to Beth should be diverted to pay off her debt. Unfortunately, Fridholm had to get in line behind the Internal Revenue Service and the Texas Workforce Commission, which wanted their back taxes. (Beth ultimately sold her interest to another trust, which happened to be overseen by her personal attorney, James Mulder. Beth’s interest sold for roughly $18,000, with the proceeds going to the IRS. Jack Sanders did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
None of this had any effect on Beth’s public face; in fact, she seemed to flourish. A 2009 Chronicle article documented Beth’s appearance at 13 Celsius for a “Pink Party” fundraiser for MD Anderson’s Beth Sanders Moore Young Breast Cancer Survivors Program. Chef and restaurateur Monica Pope served hot dogs; Jess Moore did not attend but did send 62 pink bouquets in honor of the late Farrah Fawcett. That same year, Beth was photographed by PaperCity, dressed exquisitely at the Valentino fundraiser for the MFAH, an affair populated by some of Houston’s most fabulous — Lynn Wyatt, Diane Lokey Farb and Greg Fourticq Jr., whose parents were still waiting for their half a million.
In June 2010, Beth began Cancer-Forward’s launch campaign, landing some generous donations from the family of late Houston billionaire Dan Duncan; Saks Fifth Avenue (a company listed as a creditor in Beth’s bankruptcy filing); the Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group, owner of venerable fancy-people eatery Cafe Annie; the Mithoff Family Foundation; Texas Children’s Hospital; and the elusive Baldwin Sanders Moore Family Fund, among many others.
Beth managed to put together a collection of impressive national advisers, including medical professionals from Texas Children’s, Baylor College of Medicine, MD Anderson and New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The board also included Donna Grace Vallone, the owner of Tony’s Restaurant, a Houston institution; John B. Connally IV, a partner in Vinson & Elkins; and former Texas governor Mark W. White.
While Beth charmed upper-crust donors, Cancer-Forward co-founder Bo Bothe was working on the charity’s website and social media platforms. His company, Brand-Extract, noted in an August 2010 press release that it was wrapping up the second of the site’s three phases.
“CancerForward is a very personal thing since cancer has affected me, my family and the families of many of our current and former staff members,” Bothe stated in the release. “Contributing our time, resources and money to this worthwhile cause is our heartfelt way to honor our loved ones and make an impact on others in our community.”
The press release also noted that Brand-Extract “developed the Cancer-Forward name, identity and branding, including logo, tagline and brochure. Plus, the firm created and launched the organization’s blog, YouTube station, and Facebook and Twitter pages.”
In every year since, the charity has spent at least $220,000 on IT services, and that has been legally reflected on its financial statements. But the Press was unable to find out anything beyond the legal requirement, leaving CancerForward’s single-biggest expenditure something of a mystery.
However, the charity’s IRS filings indicate that its financials are thoroughly reviewed by board members and that there are no conflicts of interest to disclose. The filings state that a “finance committee comprised of members of the executive committee assumes the responsibility to review prepared financial statements” and that “officers and directors are required to disclose to the board, interests that could give rise to conflicts as defined by the Foundation’s written conflict of interest policy.”
The Press reached out to current and former board members in hopes of finding the names of Cancer-Forward’s IT vendors but was met with refusals or silence. Although they ostensibly oversaw an organization whose survival depended on charitable donations, they did not feel it was their responsibility to be transparent and address concerns. These people include: co-founders Bo Bothe and Brian Cruver; current secretary/treasurer Michael E. Clark; donor Cora Sue Mach, breast cancer survivor and vice president of Mach Industrial Group; vice chair Bill Hamilton; former vice chair W. Stewart Smith, principal of Fuller Realty Partners and former landlord of Adinfinit; Denise Monteleone (of the prominent New Orleans Monteleone family); former board members and attorneys Cabrina Owsley and Nancy Wilson Hargrove; and former treasurer Duncan Furrh of Marshall.
Beth originally agreed to respond to questions via email but then cut off contact with the Press. Instead, we received a vague “Statement From CancerForward” that read in part: “Directors with credentialed business acumen review the organization’s assets and expenditures, and the organization adheres to strict conflict-of-interest policies. With a focus on providing a wide and expanding range of online resources, digital information sharing, and social media platforms specifically aiding cancer survivors and their families, CancerForward has historically relied on high-quality IT services and related support.”
But by far the best part of the statement is the compelling vignette illustrating the website’s value to those fighting an often fatal disease: It seems a man with melanoma recently emailed Cancer-Forward, asking for information about a particularly debilitating side effect of proton radiation treatment.
So just how did the charity help this man in his battle with skin cancer? It sent him an article to show his doctor.
“Armed with that information, the survivor can now take it to his personal medical professional for appropriate discussion,” the statement reads, forgetting to add that doctors absolutely love it when patients bring them information they find online. “That scenario and others similar play out weekly through the CancerForward website.”
This statement would have been the ideal opportunity for CancerForward’s board and founders to discuss in detail the organization’s single-biggest expenditure, IT services, which has gobbled up 56 percent of all the money it’s raised. The statement could have shown, through vivid examples, how the steep price tag actually pays off in spades by maintaining a website brimming with unique, unparalleled access to medical resources and emotional support. What we got instead was an example of something you’d get from WebMD.
In the end, though, it’s the parties that matter. That’s what will be remembered, not whether Cancer-Forward helped some dude talk to his doctor about an article he found online.
No, it’s the parties; the important people who honored Beth at galas and then waited for their turn to be honored, in the grand tradition of the Society Circle Jerk.
Beth’s events for Cancer-Forward, ever elegant and photo-op-friendly, quickly became red-letter dates on society calendars. In addition to drawing the biggest names in Houston’s cultured class, they often imported fabulous people — as with Saks’s 2014 Key to the Cure Kickoff, which featured designer Tommy Hilfiger and his wife, Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger, who showed off their new luxury handbag collection.
There was the 2012 launch of Cancer-Forward’s “New Summer Standard” galas, which became a highlight of the season. The 2014 gala was especially notable, honoring cancer survivor and Houston City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen. (The event evoked “an early summer party in the Hamptons,” according to the charity’s press release.)
“Though the coterie of white dinner jackets at the Houston Country Club on Wednesday evening signaled the near end of spring’s social season, this year’s Cancer-Forward gala was determined to go out with a bang,” the Chronicle reported in May 2014. “A swank crowd of 200 gathered for ‘the New Summer Standard’ dinner dance, beginning with a cocktail reception in the foyer.”
Cohen acknowledged Beth, saying, “Thanks to Beth, no woman, no man, no one will ever feel alone again.”
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Although she’s now in Dallas, Beth appears to still be contributing to her charity’s website, summarizing other publications’ content on the CancerForward blog. Other than a brief mention in her bio, the site doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the fact that she’s no longer in Houston. Since she was Cancer-Forward’s engine, its prime generator of donations, it’s unclear what the future holds for the charity — especially since she seems to have burned bridges in Houston.
CancerForward’s events always honored a special coterie of civic leaders who had survived cancer; these were the “Houston Forward Movers.” They served to inspire, and, in Beth’s words, “have fought cancer with bravery and grace.”
Beth herself could be counted as a Forward Mover. She’s made it through breast cancer, bankruptcy, civil suits and awkward meals at La Griglia. She came out on the other end with a charity that lit up Houston society. A charity for people just like Beth: survivors.
(*Updated 6/23/15 at 8:30 am to include a statement from Jess Moore)