Crime

Arrest of Travis Singhaus for Fraud Hurts Those Who Helped His Charity

The social media profiles of Travis Singhaus are filled with photos depicting a man who gives back: kids on hiking trips, soup kitchen work during the holidays, the delivery of bagged lunches to people in need.

But another photo didn't make those sites: Singhaus's mug shot, taken after the 47-year-old was arrested for alleged crimes connected to his charity, Impact Network.

On January 9, Denver police officers and federal agents arrested Singhaus at Denver International Airport as he returned from a trip abroad. Singhaus, who spent two nights in the Downtown Detention Center before being granted bond, is facing eight felony charges: theft, three counts of charitable fraud, forgery and three counts of criminal impersonation.

"To say that we were blindsided by this is an understatement," says Aaron Richardville, who volunteered with Impact Locally, a project of Impact Network, for six years.

As part of his volunteer work, Richardville participated in clothing drives, sack-lunch handouts, holiday meals, and outings with kids experiencing homelessness, when Singhaus would rent a van and take kids tubing in the winter or hiking in the mountains in the summer.

Through it all, Singhaus was allegedly scamming donors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"I’ve donated money personally, so if there was ever any kind of an inkling where I thought there was something amiss, I wouldn’t have donated money," Richardville says, then admits, "When you start to look back on things, there are things that would have raised red flags."

For example, when people asked for Impact Locally's official charity identification number, nothing turned up at the number Singhaus provided. "I could never find anything," Richardville says. "It would be explained away in the sense that it was our error in the way that we were searching."

The Denver District Attorney's Office has accused Singhaus of using the identification number of another charity named Impact Network, with which he was never affiliated, then soliciting donations for his own Impact Network, which does not actually have federal charity status.

The legitimate Impact Network in the Colorado Secretary of State's online database for charities indicates that the organization operated in Colorado from 2015 to 2018 and focused on CBD research and advocacy. "Due to an active investigation and for my own safety, I have been advised to decline comment. Impact Network closed in early 2018," says Michele Ross, founder of that organization.
click to enlarge Travis Singhaus after his arrest. - DPD
Travis Singhaus after his arrest.
DPD

According to the partially redacted arrest warrant for Singhaus, one donor gave him $10,000 donations every month from February 2019 through August 2021 — $300,000 in all. The funds were meant to go toward operations of the Impact Humanity clothing bank at 2526 Welton Street. Singhaus was able to convince the donor that his organization was a legitimate, registered nonprofit by using fraudulent documentation, according to the warrant.

The warrant also charges that in March 2021, Singhaus solicited a donation of $44,000 for the purchase of a fourteen-passenger van that would be used to take kids to the mountains. The donor provided a check for that amount, contingent on it being used for the purchase of the van. Around the same time, Singhaus sent a check via FedEx to an employee and asked the employee to deposit the check; the employee did. Singhaus then purchased a Toyota 4Runner in Kentucky for just under $40,000, but never bought a fourteen-passenger van. Singhaus may have used "earmarked donation funds to purchase a personal vehicle," the warrant notes.

How Singhaus wound up in Denver is vague; his Facebook profile says that he's originally from Stuttgart, Germany.

A local event planner, who asked that her name not be used because she's worried about repercussions on her business, says that she met Singhaus, then known as Travis Smith, during a lunch-packing drive in Denver, then worked with him on a charity auction night in July 2017.

"The event went off very well. We threw the event. It raised like $16,000," the planner says. "At the end of the event, he pretty much fell off the map. He didn't pay the gallery, he didn’t pay the caterer."

Some of the prizes, like a meal cooked by a chef who used to play for the Broncos, turned out to be totally bogus, according to the event planner. "He took all that money, stopped answering everyone’s calls, and he came to my work and started threatening me," she recalls.

One of the fraudulent auction items is listed in the arrest warrant. Two auction participants had bid $1,500 on a trip, and when they tried to book it, the travel agent said that it hadn't been paid for. In April 2018, one of the bidders filed a complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State section that specializes in charity licensing. When state investigators looked into the issue, Singhaus responded that he had refunded the money to the complainant. The state then fined Singhaus $300 for operating an unregistered charity organization.

"I’m so thankful someone finally caught him," the event planner says.
click to enlarge The Impact Humanity free store closed this fall. - GOOGLE MAPS
The Impact Humanity free store closed this fall.
Google maps
In 2018, Singhaus changed his name from Travis Wayne Smith to Travis Liam Singhaus — taking the last name of a onetime wife. Early that year, he launched his most celebrated project: the clothing bank. Soon after it opened, Westword interviewed Singhaus in a Facebook Live video outside of the store, where people experiencing homelessness could get clothing and other items for free. Singhaus said that he'd experienced homelessness in the past. "To me, this store represents the best of humanity," he told Westword. "Not only the people volunteering, the people donating, but the people coming in. So in every way to me, this is an example of humanity becoming a store."

"I never met him, but our staff would sometimes refer people to Humanity," says Tom Luehrs, executive director of the St. Francis Center, which is about a ten-minute walk from the former clothing bank's location.

And according to Nicole Tschetter of the Denver Rescue Mission, "We know they sometimes distribute food and clothing outside some of our shelters, but really do not know much more than that. Our interaction as an organization has been very limited."

Singhaus's clothing bank was designed to "put humanity back into the experience of getting clothes," according to Audrey Bailey, who worked at the store in 2019 and 2020. The store closed this fall after Singhaus reported numerous break-ins that made 9News.

"It’s tragic, because ultimately, at the end of the day, he was a very motivated person with a mission. Everything he did was toward that mission. [But] when you were working with him, [it was] at the great expense of the people who were helping him," Bailey says, declining to get into specifics because she says her work contract for Singhaus included a non-disclosure agreement. Other former employees say they also signed such agreements.

Rachelle Matossian has no reluctance to talk about Singhaus, now that the law has caught up with him. Matossian volunteered with Impact for four years and recalls hearing his same pitch to audiences of volunteers time after time.

"He used to bring up that he was a general contractor of some sort and said that his business partner embezzled like $7 million dollars from him. He would tell everyone that when that happened, he became homeless, too," Matossian says.

But while Singhaus often flashed a smile publicly, he had a quick temper and sometimes verbally abused volunteers, she adds. "There were quite a few times where he would go from zero to sixty very quickly, and we started noticing very narcissistic tendencies," Matossian says. She quit volunteering in late 2017 after he berated her several times.

Looking back on the gig, Matossian points to some red flags. For example, Singhaus charged people to volunteer during lunch-packing drives. "He was making $4,000 a weekend. ... We got all of our shit donated. Why are we charging these people?" Matossian asks.

Aside from posting photos of his service work, Singhaus also frequently uploaded pictures to social media showing him vacationing around the globe, in places like Peru, Costa Rica, Mexico, Indonesia and Thailand.

"I used to think the traveling was family money or maybe he did something else," says James Rush Smith, who volunteered with Impact over the years.

Adds Richardville, "He said he had investment money and money from selling his company years ago."

That's one reason that the charges that Singhaus has been defrauding donors for years came as a shock. But Richardville also saw Singhaus actually help plenty of people. "He had tents and sleeping bags in the back of his car," Richardville says. "I know several people that he gave assistance to in being able to get them off of the street."

Singhaus, who did not return a message sent to his personal Facebook account, posted bond on the morning of January 11. He's due back in Denver County Court for a preliminary hearing on February 3.