The latest tax return for the Hero Thrill Show, Inc., reveals that the long-running charity continues to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on rent and legal fees, all of which is questionable because the nonprofit doesn’t keep a standard office and has only faced one significant lawsuit in recent years.
The latest data push the total spending to well over $1 million since 2016.
The Hero Thrill Show, Inc., is the latest iteration of a charity stretching back more than six decades in Philadelphia history. The show features tricks and stunts by Philadelphia police and firefighters on motorcycles, fire engines and more, and ticket revenues then fund scholarships for the children of police and firefighters injured or killed on the job.
Since 2006, the charity has been run by James “Jimmy” Binns, well known in Philadelphia because of his work as a former boxing commissioner and a cameo role in one of the Rocky franchise movies. As a lawyer, Binns was also known for his many high-profile clients and lawsuits in the 80s and 90s. He’s also the founder of the Hero Plaque program, which memorializes fallen Philly police and firefighters.
The latest 990 is from 2021, but analyzing the document is slightly complicated because it’s unclear if the filing is for that calendar year, or for July 2021 to June of 2022, which is allowable under IRS rules. IRS 990 forms are publicly available documents and are intended to provide transparency to help the public analyze a nonprofit’s financials in order to help citizens determine if they would like to support the entity. The forms normally lag by twelve to eighteen months.
For the 2021 filing, HTSI spent $175,000 on legal fees, and $18,678 on “occupancy,” which is essentially rent or mortgage payments, utilities, etc.
2021 was also a slow year for the charity’s main purpose, as it only spent $3,143 on scholarships. However, the charity’s outlays for its core purpose can vary drastically, depending heavily on when eligible children become college aged.
The occupancy expenses are questionable because Binns uses an address for a building on Walnut St., which is the home of the Beasley Firm, a personal injury law firm boasting nine-figure judgements in wrongful deaths and medical malpractice cases. Binns is listed as “special counsel” on the firm’s website.
If Binns pays rent to the Beasley Firm for the Hero Thrill Show, it raises numerous questions mainly because earlier 990’s show the HTSI paying no rent at all between 2006-2010. Additionally, the occupancy expense has fluctuated wildly while based at the same address, from as high as $56,112 in 2018 to as low as $18,678 for the 2021 filing.
The HTSI has spent just under $1 million in legal fees since 2006. But the bulk of that — about $944,000 — has come since 2016 when the show began listing six-figure expenditures for legal services. The largest of those years was 2018, when the HTSI said it incurred $200,000 in legal fees.
Those figures skyrocket past the HTSI’s previous legal spending. From 2006-11, the HTSI listed only $49,700 in legal fees, or about $8,000 a year. It had $0 in legal spending in three of those years.
HTSI legal spending raises red flags when compared to other charities in Philadelphia, charities that operate nearly on a daily basis with donation support that is several times the HTSI’s.
For example, Project HOME housed more than 1,000 people in 2021, and assisted with 28,000 medical visits for those with housing insecurity. Project HOME had income (through donations, grants, etc.) of $41.7 million in 2021. Its legal spending that year was only $88,887 — less than half of HTSI’s legal spending.
In 2021, Cathedral Kitchen provided over 100,000 meals for the needy, Monday through Saturday. It had roughly $4.7 million in income. It had $0.00 of legal expenses.
The Hero Thrill Show puts on a one-day show. Its 2021 legal expenses were nearly twice its income.
Repeated searches of federal and Philadelphia court databases have only ever identified one lawsuit against the HTSI. In that case, a minor girl claimed she was burned when her leg touched the hot exhaust pipe of a motorcycle being used in the show.
The case was filed in September of 2020, but court records indicate the plaintiffs were unable to serve Binns with the complaint and summons for at least a year — meaning Binns and the Hero Thrill Show didn’t really start to incur legal fees (if they did at all) until about October 2021 or later.
The case was settled through arbitration by January 2023, and the Hero Thrill Show was ordered to pay $50,000 to the young girl’s family.
Court records from the same case also present another curiosity about the charity’s finances. The 990 forms for the HTSI never show any spending on insurance. However, some court documents indicate the plaintiffs discovered who the insurer was for the HTSI.
If the HTSI did have insurance, it raises the questions of how much the charity might have been covered both for the attorney expenses and the judgment. The attorney who entered an appearance to represent the HTSI, Andrea J. Bullock, is employed by Continental Casualty Company, the insurance company identified by the plaintiffs. Continental Casualty is a subsidiary of CNA Financial.
Broad + Liberty has reported on the HTSI since 2021. In that two-year period, it has reached out to Binns through USPS mail, email, phone calls and texts. He has never responded.
Broad + Liberty sent a request for comment to Mayor Cherelle Parker’s office to inquire if her administration would continue to underwrite the show with the city’s donation of the hundreds of man hours and equipment needed to run the show. The request was not returned.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports