Sporting a faded khaki trench coat and a worn minister's collar, the Rev. Eugene Marshall stands outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in the cold, clutching his briefcase and shivering in the light drizzle.
"Money for the kids!" he shouts through a Cheshire Cat grin, as the office workers and professionals scurry down Broadway. "Give a buck for homeless kids!"
While an occasional altruist stuffs a few bills or some change in Marshall's hand, most passersby keep their hands in their pockets and their eyes turned down. "The Lord saves!" Marshall roars, flailing his arms. "Help his children!"
Suddenly, a man in the throng flushes red. "Don't hide behind your collar, man!" he cries, wagging an erect finger. "Don't hide behind your race! You're nothin' but a fraud, trying to rip people off!"
Frowning, Marshall produces a small, crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. "I'm just trying to help out some kids, all right?" he replies. "You wanna see my papers? I got papers to prove who I am!"
For a moment, the two stand face to face, fists clenched, and then, abruptly, the tension diffuses. Releasing a pent-up breath, Marshall's accuser wordlessly slinks down the street. Marshall shakes his head. "Man, if that'd been 10 years ago, I would've knocked that guy on his ass," he chuckles.
For the past several months, Marshall has been a Broadway fixture, peddling an idiosyncratic mixture of persistence and charm to collect money for his charity, "Moments for Miracles." Marshall maintains that donations are used to purchase pizzas for homeless youth, which he distributes nightly in the North Park Blocks.
On closer inspection, however, there is less to Marshall's charity than meets the eye.
Moments for Miracles does not have a place of business, a listed phone number, or any members besides Marshall. Representatives of Willamette Bridge Programs, a nonprofit group that works with street kids, have never heard of Marshall or his pizzas. "We would know if there was anyone doing something like that," says program supervisor Shamus Roller.
Marshall's theological pedigree also appears questionable. The only evidence is a worn "Certificate of Completion" from an unspecified ministerial school, which he carries folded in his pocket, and a lapel badge that affiliates him with the Victor Boc show on 860 AM, a formerly religious radio station.
"I had a guy on my show one time who called himself 'Minister Marshall,'" Boc says. "I honestly know nothing about him whatsoever other than that."
While admitting to a dicey past in Las Vegas, Marshall says he found God, turned his life around and started Moments for Miracles, which is, he insists, a legitimate charity.
In fact, Marshall is jobless and homeless, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he runs Moments for Miracles to feed and clothe himself.
"We worked with him briefly, and he was encouraged not to come back," says Dave Jeffries, a spokesman for the faith-based charity William Temple House. "We understand he is quite a manipulator."
"Philanthropists" like Marshall stretch the definition of charity to the limit--or beyond. But there is little the authorities can do about his operation. The three governmental agencies that keep tabs on charities and nonprofit organizations--the Charitable Activities Section of the Oregon Department of Justice, the Secretary of State's Corporation Division and the Internal Revenue Service--take a "hands-off" attitude toward religious charities.
"We tread very lightly when it comes to regulating religiously affiliated groups because of the concerns over the separation of church and state," says Victoria Cox of the Department of Justice. Religious nonprofits are not obliged to register with the secretary of state or the Department of Justice. They don't even have to file documents with the IRS.
IRS guidelines require that religious corporations be affiliated with a place of worship and set up for religious purposes. But in practice, claiming religious status for a charity or nonprofit is a simple process that requires little substantiation. "We usually take them at their word," says Cox.
Portland police say there's little point in trying to shut down the Rev. Marshall's one-man fundraising machine. "Conceivably he could be charged with theft through deception," says Officer James West, who has received complaints from Schnitz employees. "But that's not a case which is going to be prosecuted in Multnomah County."
Marshall--who seems more like a hard-luck fellow forced into creative panhandling than a dyed-in-the-wool scoundrel--emphatically denies any deception. "You bet I'm collectin' for the kids," he told WW. "I wouldn't stand on the corner for nothin.'"