Created on Thursday, 28 March 2013 Written by LISA CORNWELL,Associated Press
CINCINNATI (AP) — A state investigation alleging more than $10 million in charitable funds held by veterans services organizations for job training and other services was misused also found that some veterans posts in Ohio set up fake career centers instead of using the money to help unemployed veterans.
The Ohio attorney general's office said an agreement between the state and the Columbus-based AMVETS Department of Ohio, Ohio AMVETS Career Center and AMVETS Department of Ohio Service Foundation requires reforms that include revamped accounting and reporting practices, written financial policies and the removal of personnel in various AMVETS offices and boards.
Attorney General Mike DeWine says AMVETS officials have cooperated and started some reforms. He says veterans need the assistance and "going forward we will make sure they get it."
An attorney general's spokeswoman said Wednesday that "no criminal charges have been filed so far." Spokeswoman Lisa Hackley said she couldn't say what may have specifically triggered the investigation that began last year.
The probe found some of the 59 AMVETS posts in Ohio set up satellite career centers that were only "facades," amounting to little more than an "outdated computer in a corner," according to court documents filed Tuesday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Columbus. Some used the money intended for centers to reimburse themselves for items such as "rent" for the centers and to pay a member as a "career center coach," who often did little more than register veterans for an online course, the documents state.
Investigators who posed as veterans in need of job help said that they were often told a computer wasn't working or that a post had no career center.
State officials say the more than $10 million sent back to posts by the AMVETS Career Center over a six-year period from Jan. 1, 2006, through May 31, 2012, was for creation of satellite centers to provide veterans with training and employment services.
Ohio law allows AMVETS posts to keep 75 percent of their licensed gambling profits, with 25 percent required to go to a public charity. Fifty-nine posts made the Ohio career center the designated charity for their bingo profits and contracted with the center to operate the satellite centers. About 85 percent of the funds sent to the Ohio center went back to the posts, and posts' members and AMVETS Career Center officials characterized payments to the posts as "kickbacks," according to the documents.
The investigation also found that over the six years, about $1.8 million diverted to the AMVETS Department of Ohio was used to subsidize non-charitable department activities, including payroll and travel reimbursements, Hackley said.
Sandy Vorhies, state commander of AMVETS Department of Ohio, said AMVETS officials "are angry that veterans did not receive needed services" and have fired several people who contributed to the problems.
A department statement Wednesday said that it appreciates DeWine's assistance "in identifying inefficiencies" in the career center program and will continue to make the changes needed to ensure veterans receive services.
Len Proper, executive director of the newly reformed Ohio AMVETS Career Center that will be renamed, said Wednesday that the reforms "will allow me to take this organization where it needs to go."
DeWine said in court documents that most of the charitable money was spent and requiring posts to repay it would "only result in insolvency" without helping the organizations or veterans.
Fifty-nine posts in separate agreements have agreed to fund the newly reformed career center for five years and will only receive charitable money for actual services provided. While some posts had active career centers, all the centers misused money in some way, Hackley said.
Court documents say lack of reporting and accountability concerns led the Ohio career center board to request more reporting by posts in 2007, but most "continued to refuse to report and failed to sign up veterans for services."
Jay Agg, a spokesman with the Lanham, Md.-based AMVETS National Headquarters, said the group's state departments do not receive day-to-day oversight by the national group.
"But we are monitoring the situation, and we are confident the recommendations will be followed," he said.