“The Wounded Warrior Fund.” Sounds legitimate, right? It sounds like an offshoot of the Wounded Warrior Project, maybe another branch of theirs that takes donations, or has a particular function separate from the rest of the organization. Right?
Four Indiana residents have been charged with 227 counts of wire fraud, as well as mail fraud and conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. They were taking donations under the “Wounded Warrior Fund” and the “Wounded Warrior Foundation” names, hoping that people would mistake if for the Wounded Warrior Project. Their profits totaled up to $125,000 since 2011. According to the Secret Service, veterans did not receive a “single dollar” of this money — rather, it went to medical bills, gift cards, cash, and was even used in casinos. Physical donations (tools, jewelry, etc.) were pawned off or kept for personal use.
James Linville created the foundations, and the others involved were Amy Bennett, Thomas Johnson and Joanie Watson. The four could face 20 years behind bars each.
Josh Minkler, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, said in a statement that,
The acts of these fraudsters have eroded the trust and good will of those who want to contribute to legitimate fundraising organizations, including those that support our veterans … Our American veterans have dutifully served this country through many wars and deserve better than to be deprived of donations from giving donors.”
Linville initially pushed back hard against any allegations to this end. Several months ago, he said, “Put me in a jail, I dare you … I’ll make a mockery of your court,” he said. It would seem that the authorities aim to put that to the test.
I grew up in non-profit circles — real ones, not a fraudulent one. It is frustrating to hear these kinds of stories, as they generally lead to cynicism across the board about non-profits. It also gives people who don’t want to give up their hard earned money (no one should have to) an excuse to not give to anyone, ammo to remain cynical and make other cynical as well. These scams wind up hurting so many excellent non-profits out there, who are benefiting veterans, third world healthcare, inner city education — there is a long list of legitimate non-profits earnestly using donated money.
It all comes down to doing your own research.
Some churches put their offerings into bigger stages and louder speakers, some put it into prison outreach programs that have made some significant differences. It’s hard to play the hapless victim in a cases like those when it wasn’t even a secret in the first place — in those cases, the information is out there, and anyone who blindly throws their money to the wind only has themselves to blame.
Then there are the actual, straight-up scams where they are lying to you and living lavishly off the profits, like in the case of the Wounded Warrior Fund. This kind of thing takes more research, but it’s still possible to discern between a scam and a legitimate company. How does their website look? Do they have social media with pictures and videos that actually show what they’re doing? Do you have any personal connections to them? Are you getting updates on how your money is being spent?
I have stuck with donating to the same three organizations for years, but I did my research first. If you’re going to give, do your research too.
Featured image courtesy of the Air Force.