The publicity campaign promised a new summer program at Point Dume for poor children, funded in part by the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation.
A smiling Sterling was shown next to a horse in some newspaper ads. In others, the foundation described the project as "the 20 Acre Malibu Farm & Horse Ranch Estate As A Free Summer Camp For Underprivileged Kids Ages 6-14."
Initially the camp was to open in 2014, offering horseback riding, golf, a new pool and tennis court, even a heli-pad; more recently, advertisements said it would debut in 2016.
But Malibu officials said Sterling has filed no proposals with the city for the project. And Darren Schield, the Sterling foundation's chief financial officer, said he had no information about plans to fund the Malibu ranch. Sterling did not respond to requests for comment.
Ads bearing the name of the Sterling Foundation have heavily promoted its namesake's good works. Those in the Los Angeles Times have featured pictures of the billionaire Clippers owner and numerous recipients of his largesse, including leaders of groups that serve minorities and the underprivileged.
Some of the ads said the foundation was committed to making $10 million in donations. Others cited larger figures — $17 million, even $20 million.
The foundation's actual giving has been far more modest than the publicity suggests.
And some of Sterling's most touted projects, such as the Malibu children's camp and earlier plans for a skid row homeless center, have so far failed to materialize.
From 2009, when Sterling began funding the foundation, through the end of 2012, it gave out about $1.4 million, according to tax records.
Most were grants of $5,000 to $20,000 to dozens of community groups and schools, including Para Los Niños, the United Negro College Fund and the Union Rescue Mission.
Some organizations that received the foundation's money said they were grateful. But others said they became turned off by what they considered Sterling's relentless self-promotion, even before the NBA banned the Clippers owner for life last week for a recording in which a man the league said was Sterling told a female friend not to associate with black people in public.
Sterling, whose estimated net worth is $1.9 billion, began funding the charity the same year he paid $2.7 million to settle a federal housing discrimination lawsuit. Sterling, whose company owns numerous apartment buildings across Southern California, has been dogged by allegations in lawsuits that he refused to rent to African Americans, Latinos and families with children.
Among the recipients of Sterling's charitable money was 100 Black Men of Los Angeles, a youth mentoring program that received $5,000 in 2009. Some members said in interviews that they were initially hesitant to take the money after hearing about the housing discrimination allegations against Sterling, but they decided it was more important to provide scholarships to disadvantaged students.
Soon a photo of the organization's then-president began appearing in newspaper advertisements. Group members were disturbed by what they saw as the message: "Look at all the African Americans I'm helping," said the group's current president, Pastor Jewett Walker Jr.
Walker said the organization asked Sterling to stop using its name and logo in the ads, but the request was ignored. Then the group heard that former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, a Hall of Fame NBA player, had sued Sterling for wrongful termination and had accused him of fostering a "plantation mentality" in the Clippers organization. (Baylor later dropped the racial-bias claim.)
Walker said 100 Black Men returned the money and sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Sterling stop using its name and logo in the ads.
"I think he was pimping us to get credit for helping the African American community," he added.
Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said in a statement that "it is the advertiser's responsibility to secure permissions from any person whose image is utilized in their advertising."
In another case, the Sterling foundation pledged $10,000 annually for 10 years to A Place Called Home, a nonprofit organization for disadvantaged children in South Los Angeles, according to tax records.
"Suddenly, my picture showed up in the L.A. Times in those ads," said Jonathan Zeichner, the group's executive director. He said he did not recall giving the foundation permission to use his image in the ads.