Nonprofit Newswire | Stand-ins Posed as Members of Navy Veterans Association

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May 16, 2010; Source: St. Petersburg Times | Having commented before about the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, we are obliged to provide this follow-up. Remember that the issue was that no one could actually find the key board members and staff of this organization despite its having taken in tens of millions of dollars in charitable donations.

The St. Petersburg Times had determined that the national organization consisted of one person, someone named “Lt. Commander Bobby Thompson,”—despite Thompson’s (and his legal mouthpieces’) contentions that the organization had 41 state chapters and 66,939 members doling out millions in assistance to Navy personnel, vets, and their families. But could Thompson produce any evidence of real people who were legitimate members of the Association?

No. The top-notch investigative team at the St. Petersburg Times did its homework and discovered that the “Association members” pictured at various times on the organization’s website weren’t members and in some cases weren’t even vets. They were people associated with Donald Phillips, a Tampa real estate developer and Republican political donor, who provided his own staff, including his governmental affairs director, Michael Ciftci, and other Phillips employees and their friends to pose for Association pictures. They never seem to have protested being captioned inaccurately as unnamed “Association members,” though now that Thompson is being investigated by several states, including Florida, one of the biggest do-nothing states in terms of charitable oversight, Phillips now has a “sick feeling” about his relationship with Thompson and the organization.

Thompson for his part cleared out of his duplex and left no forwarding address. You’ve got to love the lawyer, however. She charged that the newspaper’s attempts to find two women who had some work-oriented relationship with Thompson and the Association could be construed as “stalking.” She also declined to make Thompson or the Association in general available for comment to the Times, noting that its articles “continue to be laced with your usual, but highly unusual for a legitimate reporter, substantial amounts of falsehoods and sheer editorialized argumentation masquerading as a factual presentation. Thank You.”—Rick Cohen