May 6, 2010; Source: The Ledger | The search for the headquarters and officials of the New Mexico chapter of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association yielded only “dirt and mesquite,” according to the New Mexico Attorney General. Having discovered that the head of the organization, Commander Howard Bonifacio, listed his home address on the group’s 990 as an address that turned out to be a vacant lot in Las Cruces, the AG declared the officers of the organization “fictional” and gave a cease-fundraising order to the group.
Story over? Nope! Up pops a letter from the U.S. Navy Veterans Association headquarters, itself a subject of investigation by the St. Petersburg Times, trying to explain something, though it’s not clear what. One Patsy Mii, identified as the organization’s “joint compliance committee chair,” whatever that means, who herself was unable to be located during a six-month search by the Times, signed the letter to the New Mexico AG, contending that the Navy Veterans had held a “special inquiry” at the organization’s Washington headquarters and concluded that Bonifacio was real and “did not intend to defraud anyone.”
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Mii said that the other officers of the organization’s New Mexico chapter also existed, but—get this—told the AG that they are “very much afraid of persons such as yourself.” To avoid litigation from the AG, Navy Veterans decided to preemptively close down the Bonifacio-headed chapter. Remember that the Times has been chasing this organization, allegedly with income above $22 million annually supporting the national office and 41 (now 40, we guess) state affiliates.
The sad part of the story may be that Bonifacio is likely a Korean War vet who is homeless and may have been sleeping in a shelter or church near the vacant lot that he listed as his home and the organization’s New Mexico chapter headquarters. Nonetheless, the press coverage of this organization suggests it is one more group that uses veterans for lucrative charitable fundraising but seems to have minimal ability to explain anything about what the organization does, who’s involved, and what happens to the money. The press got a class comment from USNVA’s general counsel: “My client requested that I respond by indicating that they grow weary over your continued attempts to create a story where none exists.”—Rick Cohen