Charities warn about publishing firm

Some local community service groups have taken the unusual step of posting warnings that they are not affiliated with an Edmonton-based publishing company.

Some local community service groups have taken the unusual step of posting warnings that they are not affiliated with an Edmonton-based publishing company.

The Edmonton Food Bank and Crime Stoppers are both warning supporters they no longer have a connection with Cedar Publishing Corporation or its president Moe Najmeddine.

Representatives of the organizations say Cedar at one time had agreements to publish magazines containing articles about their activities, with all money generated from ad sales going to Cedar.

However, concern over aggressive sales pitches for advertising and confusion about who was benefiting from proceeds led them to sever ties with Cedar, they say.

"People started contacting our organization, because they thought that Cedar Publishing was being very aggressive with their sales pitches," said Edmonton Food Bank executive director Marjorie Bencz.

"As well as, people thought directly or indirectly Edmonton's food bank was getting proceeds from the publication, which wasn't the case."

The food bank now has a message on its web site warning that the Alberta Food Bank Network Association, which had an agreement to publish with Cedar, is no longer affiliated with the company, and advertising revenue doesn't benefit the food bank.

Crime Stoppers, which is engaged in a lawsuit with Cedar alleging "misconduct" by the company, says its relationship is also terminated, and Cedar publications titled Crime Stopper Newsmagazine and CSI News have no connection with the agency.

"These publications are NOT affiliated with Crime Stoppers," the web message says. "Advertising in these magazines or with Cedar Publishing Corporation does NOT support Crime Stoppers."

Publisher declined comment

The CBC made repeated attempts to speak with Najmeddine. He declined comment, suggesting he would speak publicly after the lawsuit with Crime Stoppers was settled. Najmeddine denies the Crime Stoppers' claims and is countersuing.

In a copy of a letter from Najmeddine addressed to all Cedar staff and dated June 15, the publisher advises employees not to take negative publicity too seriously. The company isn't "fraudulent" and doesn't operate "in any unethical fashion."

In the letter, Najmeddine shrugs off lawsuits from Crime Stoppers and an earlier one with the City of Edmonton that was dropped in 2007 involving a publication called Edmonton Police Newsmagazine.

"Never once has any one lawsuit been successful against Cedar Publishing, and we have never had a judgment filed against us," the letter says. "They can sue me all they want."

Business owners felt misled

Two Edmonton business owners say they feel they were misled when they purchased ads from Cedar Publishing.

Mike Hatzinikolas, owner of engineering firm Fero Corporation, estimates he bought $12,000 worth of ads in various Cedar publications.

When he discovered through an employee that the magazine proceeds were going to a for-profit company and not helping charities as he had assumed, he telephoned Cedar and told them not to contact him again.

"It's a very difficult situation when you are thinking you are helping people and then you find out they took you for a ride," said Hatzinikolas. "You don't have a very good feeling."

Brian Camenzind, owner of an industrial sharpening and grinding business called European Cutters, said he was approached by a Cedar representative close to Christmas last year. 

Camenzind initially agreed to pay $197 for a small ad, but then refused to pay when he learned the publication he was supporting was directing no money to the food bank for their Christmas rush as he had been led to believe.

Despite threats of litigation from Cedar, Camenzind says it's a matter of principle withholding the money.

'Playing on people's hearts'

"To me what it sounds like is, he's (Najmeddine) playing on people's hearts, doing a publication that's making him a profit. And by getting people to advertise under the idea that you're actually advertising for a good thing."

Michelle Brozek, operations manager for the Better Business Bureau in Edmonton, says the bureau has had 48 complaints about Cedar reported in the last 36 months.

They include concerns about high-pressure sales tactics and mistakes in ads.

Anyone concerned they are donating money that isn't getting to the target charity or service group should contact the organization directly to verify, Brozek advises.