Veterans Foundation Sued for Trademark Infringement but May Be Guilty of Much More

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September 2, 2011; Source: De Soto (Kans.) Explorer | It may be time for state attorneys general and the IRS to take special action against the predators who create sham veterans charities as a way to fleece donors and line their own pockets. We’ve written before about “charitable” groups that use and misuse veterans here and here and here and here and here and here, just to name a few of our many statements of dismay and disbelief. 

The latest case involves a trademark-infringement lawsuit filed by the venerable Military Order of the Purple Heart, which was founded in 1932, against the Kansas-based Purple Heart Veterans Foundation—founded in 2009. The executive director of the Purple Heart Veterans Foundation, one Andrew Gruber, said he hadn’t heard of the Military Order of the Purple Heart when he created his group, which is known for raising money outside of Wal-Mart stores. He also said that if he made any mistakes, it wasn’t intentional, but just that he “didn’t have the proper skills to get it done.”

This is just the latest bit of news. The Purple Heart Veterans Foundation was already under scrutiny by the Lawrence Journal-World (see also here), which discovered that the foundation was run by a convicted felon, had hired for fundraising purposes a fundraising firm run by the executive director’s brother, also a convicted felon, and delivers only 11 cents on every dollar it raises for whatever charitable functions it claims to pursue. Before he stopped talking to the press, Gruber said that the Journal-World investigation had “kind of opened my eyes.”

Very touching, but it doesn’t wash. Before becoming a purported veterans advocate, Gruber and a third brother had founded another nonprofit called Kids vs. Cancer in Texas. Now he is transferring control of that organization to brother no. 2, the convicted felon who runs the fundraising company.

Sorry, but we smell an rat—unfortunately an all-too-common variety of rat that uses charity to defraud donors and, in effect, the veterans themselves. While Gruber claims his eyes are now “kind of open,” the regulators are still looking at veterans charities as though they are half asleep, taking action only when aggrieved donors and investigative journalists like those at the J-W and the Explorer shake them by their shoulders to take action.

Many of us have parents or grandparents who are elderly veterans, deserving of charitable assistance, and perhaps easy marks for these kinds of scams. These reports fill us with absolute loathing for the perpetrators of these alleged charitable frauds, and it is just about impossible to swallow statements that the founders of these dubious veterans charities meant well but simply flubbed their good intentions. Now that the U.S. is involved in the longest military engagements in its history in Afghanistan and Iraq, shouldn’t the government clean up the veterans charity mess so that the vets returning from these theaters get the charitable support they deserve?—Rick Cohen