Pope Co. Man Steps Down from Fundraising Effort After Accusations of Pocketing Money

RUSSELLVILLE, AR — A Pope County man accused of using the death of a deputy to scam people out of money said it was all a misunderstanding.

Todd Patterson said when he heard Reserve Deputy Sonny Smith of Johnson County was a volunteer who was killed on-duty in May during a burglary chase, he felt compelled to help Smith’s family financially.

He said he decided to host a barbeque for 50 to 100 people in Clarksville, but quickly hundreds of people reserved their spots. Feeling overwhelmed with how he would feed hundreds, possibly thousands, of people, Patterson said he started a Sonny Smith GoFundMe account to raise money for food, signs, t-shirts with Smith’s face on them for sale, flyers and other items for the benefit.

“It was more about maximizing the dollar amount for the family,” he told KARK 4 News reporter, Leah Uko.

But Smith’s family said it wanted nothing to do with Patterson because no members knew him.

“I made every attempt that I could, in the beginning, to let people know that if anyone was in contact with the family, if they could please have somebody contact me.”

When asked why he continued to promote the fundraiser without connecting with the family, Patterson said he felt it was too late to back out and cancel considering he had raised nearly $5,000.

But earlier this week, Patterson said Pope County attorney, David Gibbons informed him the family did not want him involved in fundraising efforts. Patterson emailed and posted a notice on Facebook to inform people planning to attend the benefit that in order to “honor the families wishes” expressed by Gibbons, “this event, as far as I am concerned, is canceled and any donations which I have personally sought and obtained are to be rescinded and revoked in full”.

The event was not canceled, but under new sponsorship. It was previously sponsored, in part, by a business Patterson claimed was his mother’s, “Betty’s Bargain Bin”, which he said was run out of their home and he was an employee.

There was confusion over where the money raised through the GoFundMeAccount would go now that Patterson was no longer involved. People also had concerns about his past. He served time previously for credit card theft.

When asked if he understood why the family and community did not feel comfortable having him handle fundraising efforts in their name, Patterson said yes and acknowledged he was once a con artist. He said that for the past two years, he had been trying to turn his life around and do nice things for people.

Patterson said all the items purchased for the benefit amounted to almost all the money he raised and what was left, $823.40 cash, he wanted to give to Smith’s family via the Johnson County Sheriff, Larry Jones.

“Honestly, if I don’t hear from them in the first part of the week, the only thing I can think to do with it would be to donate it to the Salvation Army or the Mission.”

Jones told Uko he was planning to go to Patterson’s home to collect the money and purchased items, but was waiting to get permission from the Smith family’s spokes person, Ronald Hayes.

We tried reaching out to the family and David Gibbons numerous times, but received no returned calls.

Leah Uko contributed to this report. To follow story coverage with Leah Uko on Facebook click here. To follow story updates with Leah Uko on Twitter click here.

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