World War II veteran Robert Case, who was a captain in the US Army Air Corp., places a flag in front of a Vietnam Veterans Memorial during Veteran's Day ceremonies, Monday, Nov. 11 in Cincinnati.
In a Cleveland courtroom Tuesday a guy named Bobby Thompson will take the stand.
So, too, will John Donald Cody.
The charge: stealing $100 million that people thought they were donating to American veterans.
Thompson and Cody are both testifying because they are one and the same guy — a Harvard-trained lawyer and former military intelligence officer — who allegedly set up a charity called the US Navy Veterans Association to fleece grateful citizens.
Cody is his real name. Thompson is the one being used in the trial. After the jury (hopefully) convicts Cody/Thompson he’ll simply be known as scum.
One hundred million dollars! Think of how many deserving former members of our military could have been helped if this guy — allegedly — wasn’t helping himself.
As you know, Monday was Veterans Day. I participated by attending a very upstanding charity golf outing. Others may have helped the cause by tossing a couple of coins into a can because the person holding it said he was representing a veterans’ charity.
Maybe he was; maybe he wasn’t. But even if he was, chances are — according to charity watchdogs — that much of the money didn’t go directly to help veterans.
I figured this was an appropriate time to warn you about what’s been going on.
Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch (formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy) has testified before Congress and written extensively about abusive veterans’ charities.
“They get away with it because it’s a hero charity. It’s an emotional give,” Borochoff told me by phone the other day. “People make snap decisions. They don’t do their homework.”
Borochoff said that many veterans charities don’t spend their funds directly on vets.
“If you follow the money, most of it is going to make us aware that vets have needs,” he added.
It’s also spent on stuff like telling us how to treat vets, how to fly the flag and other tangential matters that, if you asked, probably wouldn’t be high on a veteran’s list of needs. Food and stopping foreclosure, I’d suspect, would top that list.
The game for the outright scammers is simple: come up with a name that sounds official. Or better yet, one that is very close to an officially recognized charity.
Last December, Charity Watch attacked these sound-alike “charities:” Paralyzed American Veterans and Disabled Veterans of America. The two, according to Charity Watch, “conducted telemarketing campaigns from Jan. 2009 to April 2012 that collected over $100,000 from unwitting donors.”
The real charities are Paralyzed Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
But it’s not enough just to get your charities straight. DAV — the very legitimate charity with an honest aim of helping vets — has critics who charge that way too much of the money collected ($107 million, with total revenue of $128 million in 2012) is being used for the benefit of the folks who run the charity.
DAV gets a D rating from Charity Watch, as do Adoptaplatoon, Blinded Veterans Association, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and a lot more. Many receive an F.
The full list of all charities is available at CharityWatch.org. The grades are based on the percentage of collected funds used on program services and the cost of raising $100. The salaries of charity executives also count toward the grade.
Critics of DAV allege the group, headquartered in Cold Springs, Ky., is treating its leaders too well financially.
Dave Gahary is a 70 percent disabled Navy veteran who said he was kicked out of DAV when he started to investigate the salary levels of the charity’s executives.
He said the group pays its top execs a total of more than $1 million a year. “They sent me a letter saying I was suspended pending an investigation,” said Gahary, who brought this matter to my attention (and, frankly, pestered me until I looked into it.)
DAV’s Chief Executive Officer, Arthur Wilson, last year got $287,000 in compensation plus $72,994 in “other” pay from DAV or related organizations; General Counsel Christopher Clay $198,558, plus $144,331; and J. Marc Burgess, the executive director of the national headquarters, $163,483, plus another $122,532.
Vice Chairman Larry Pozin seemed to get best deal, earning $107,240 for an average of just five hours of work a week in 2012.
The group’s national commander, who isn’t identifiable on its tax forms, got $14,583 a month “to cover lodging, some transportation, meals and incidentals while traveling” according to a statement given to critic Gahary.
Nice freakin’ deal!
In fact, DAV reported on its tax form that it paid a total of $55.7 million in compensation last year, when it pulled in $107 million.
I asked the spokesman for the DAV to comment but didn’t get one, although we chatted briefly on the phone.
So, here’s the advice from me — a guy who, like you, gets loads of pitches for charities all the time, usually on my home phone and mostly at the most inconvenient time: Do a quick online check of all charities before you send any money.
And make sure they are helping the people they say they are helping and not themselves.