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Veterans group in hot water

  • GEORGE F. LEE / DECEMBER 2009
    The National Park Service, which operates the Arizona Memorial, confirmed it received a $10,000 check dated May 27, 2009, from Navy Veterans that appeared to be signed by Bobby Thompson, former director and chief financial officer of the United States Navy Veterans Association. The Punchbowl cemetery also said it, too, received a $10,000 check with the same date and signature.
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The Hawaii Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether a nonprofit veterans group that raised $5.9 million nationally last year fabricated chapter officials and deceived the public, officials said.

John Kimura, Ed Kinimaka and Pat Timmerman of the United States Navy Veterans Association, are you out there?

The Attorney General’s Office is trying to contact the three people listed as Hawaii chapter commander, lieutenant commander and chief financial officer with Navy Veterans, a group that’s being investigated in at least five states, Hawaii included, for its fundraising activities.

The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times spent six months looking for the 85 directors, auditors and state chapter officials listed on IRS forms by the nonprofit and it could find just one: former director and Chief Financial Officer Bobby Thompson.

According to an IRS form filed by the organization, Navy Veterans had revenues of $5.9 million in 2009, and expenses of just slightly under that amount.

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., wrote to the IRS on May 28, saying the nonprofit was under investigation in multiple states "for its legitimacy, fundraising activities and expenditures on behalf of veterans," and asked for "prompt attention to this matter."

The 501(c)(19) tax-exempt "war membership" organization trumpets on its lengthy website that it gave $10,000 each to the USS Arizona Memorial and National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. Those contributions were confirmed.

It also said it gave $2,500 to a veterans home in Hilo, and provided more than 5,000 "care kits" to Hawaii troops in the Middle East since 2002.

"In these simple acts of charity and patriotism, just over the period June 1, 2008 (to) July 15, 2009, this organization spent in Hawaii and for the people of Hawaii over 3 1/2 times the net contributions it raised in Hawaii," the charity said on its website at www.navyvets.org.

In a June 2 letter, Navy Veterans said it had closed a contribution mailbox on Bishop Street at the end of 2009, according to Hugh Jones, supervising deputy attorney general for Hawaii.

The correspondence followed the issuance of a cease-and-desist order for solicitation in Hawaii that the Attorney General’s Office said was continuing through the Navy Veterans’ website.

According to reports, Navy Veterans also used rented mailboxes in other states as collection points.

Jones said he requested contact information for the Hawaii chapter’s officers in letters sent on May 20, June 2 and June 16 to an Ohio attorney representing Navy Veterans, but hasn’t received cooperation.

"Whether these people (the Hawaii Navy Veterans officials) really exist or not, I can’t tell you at the moment. I wish I could," Jones said. "I’ve asked them (Navy Veterans) for their contact information and they’ve refused to provide it, which certainly causes me to be suspicious."

Helen Mac Murray , the attorney for Navy Veterans, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Last October, Navy Veterans requested to withdraw its registration with the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office, and it was told it couldn’t solicit contributions without that registration, Jones said.

Jones said Mac Murray maintains that the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office no longer has jurisdiction because the nonprofit claims it no longer solicits funds here.

"We beg to differ with them," Jones said. He added, "The interest is this: They said they had a Hawaii chapter on the registration form that was filed with our office, and if that chapter was really fictional, that is, I think, a deceptive trade practice."

People may have been deceived into giving through the Hawaii chapter, "and if it doesn’t exist, if it was just a fiction of Bobby Thompson’s imagination — that’s a problem as far as I’m concerned," Jones said.

He said there also could be a criminal aspect to the Navy Veterans activity.

"There possibly could be. I don’t know what Bobby Thompson has been doing with the money that’s been raised," Jones said.

The Better Business Bureau, in a "Wise Giving" report, said Navy Veterans had reported that the charity’s chairman and chief executive officer, Jack L. Nimitz, received zero compensation for the year that ended Dec. 31, 2008. Navy Veterans lists operations in 41 states.

The St. Petersburg Times said Thompson, 64, claimed that he had been a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He cleared out of his Florida duplex where he lived for a decade and left his landlord no forwarding address, the newspaper said.

The Hawaii chapter’s phone number, 440-4650, has a recorded message saying, in part, that "America is still the hope of mankind, a light that shines for freedom in the darkness, and that that darkness will not overcome us."

Hawaii chapter representatives did not respond to a Star-Advertiser message seeking comment.

Navy Veterans said on its website that the state chapter and national association raised about $122,000 in Hawaii between June 1, 2008, and May 31, 2009. The organization said it spent about $103,225 in Hawaii on "mission statement" activities, which include the support of "educational communication for policies and public support enhancing the cause of the United States of America."

The National Park Service, which operates the Arizona Memorial, confirmed it did receive a $10,000 check dated May 27, 2009, from Navy Veterans that appeared to be signed by Bobby Thompson.

The Punchbowl cemetery also said it, too, received a $10,000 check with the same date, also signed by Thompson.

According to reports, New Mexico and Ohio also have ordered Navy Veterans to cease fundraising, and Florida and Virginia are investigating the nonprofit.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs removed Navy Veterans from a listing of veterans services.

In May 2009, Hawaii and other states announced a settlement with telemarketer Community Support Inc., based in Milwaukee, which solicited contributions for numerous charities, Navy Veterans among them, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Under the settlement, which also included at least 35 other states, Community Support agreed to cease "illegal and objectionable" tactics, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The agency said the solicitor misrepresented how much of the funds would go to charities and harassed call recipients.

 

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