CINCINNATI - The state of Ohio has opened a criminal investigation against a group that says it's raising money for veterans. Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray calls the U.S. Navy Veterans Association "fraudulent."
Cordray held a press conference in Columbus Thursday afternoon detailing a lawsuit he filed to force the charity to stop collecting money from Ohio residents. He called the association a “phony outfit” that’s cheating Ohioans.
He said proceeds from fundraising have been funneled into political contributions for Ohio Republicans including Mike DeWine, Steve Chabot, George Voinovich and Jeanne Schmidt. Schmidt’s campaign tells the I-Team she’s writing a $500 check to a legitimate charity that benefits veterans, to make up for the $500 her campaign received from the political action committee that shared an address with the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Candidates receive contributions from many sources without knowing whom they represent or if they're legitimate organizations.
On its website, the group calls itself a national organization with chapters in 41 states representing more than 66,000 members. It lists its Ohio "headquarters" at an address on Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati.
The address actually leads to a UPS drop box. The Attorney General's office hasn't been able to find any of the people listed on the group's application to operate as a charity in the state or at its national headquarters in Washington D.C. The phone numbers listed for the purported officers of the charity all lead to one voicemail box. No one has returned messages left there.
The Attorney General's office issued a "cease and desist" order last month, ordering the association to stop soliciting money from Ohio residents. Envelopes continued to flow into the drop box, which led to further legal action Thursday.
In a one-on-one interview with the I-Team, Attorney General Cordray said, "This appears to have been an elaborate, fraudulent organization trading outrageously on the names of our veterans, encouraging and soliciting Ohioans to contribute, thinking they’re contributing to Navy veterans and in fact it was all going to this man and his own personal efforts.”
The man to whom Cordray refers to is a Florida resident who has disappeared since questions arose about the U.S. Navy Veterans Association.
The I-Team e-mailed the attorney representing the group for a comment about Thursday's action. We will post any reply to our questions.
Copyright (c) 2010 The E. W. Scripps Company
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