Cory Briggs for the San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition
San Diego environmental attorney Cory Briggs argues a case in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Feb. 5, 2015.

San Diego environmental attorney Cory Briggs, dressed in a suit and tie, stood before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February to argue against one of the most potentially transformative and divisive development projects in the city’s history — a proposed 12-acre property along the downtown waterfront.

But just as Briggs began his opening remarks, Judge Harry Pregerson interrupted, asking him for details about his client, the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition.

“Who do you represent?” he asked Briggs.

“The appellant, the San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition,” Briggs replied.

“And can you name any people?”

“No,” Briggs said. “It’s a nonprofit 501 C three or four — I don’t remember which one — association with a bunch of members who live in the city of San Diego.”

In some ways, the lawyer’s confusion was understandable.

Briggs and his law firm have sued on behalf of more than 30 charitable nonprofits, almost all of which he and his family helped create.  An inewsource review of public records found state and federal governments have suspended more than half of the groups, including the Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (which was later reinstated), for failing to file legally required documents showing finances, mission statements and board structures.

Nearly every nonprofit lists public “education” as its primary mission, yet most have no presence outside of court. One of the charities appears to do nothing other than take money from donors, including a developer, while others exist only on paper. According to the most recent filings, at least a dozen of the nonprofits have illegal board structures.

One nonprofit governed by Briggs’ significant other and his cousin showed nearly a quarter million dollar loss with no explanation of where the money went.

Kristin Ford, spokeswoman for the California Attorney General’s Office, which regulates nonprofits in the state, wouldn’t comment on any specific nonprofit. But she said the “registration and reporting requirement is a critical element in the Department of Justice’s efforts, through enforcement actions brought by attorneys in the Charitable Trusts Section, to protect the public against both improper diversion of charitable assets and misleading and fraudulent charitable solicitations.”

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