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I-Team: Mass. Bans Charity Claiming To Help Veterans

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve
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BOSTON (CBS) – People want to help veterans back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are willing to open their wallets to do it. But the I-Team found one charity capitalizing on that goodwill, collecting thousands of dollars in donations, but so far giving no services to veterans.

It was a bad day last week for the charity called Veterans Community Foundation. Their solicitors, with buckets of cash donations, were confronted outside a supermarket by Hingham Police.

Their rental car was towed and two solicitors were arrested on outstanding warrants unrelated to their charitable work. One problem? This Rhode Island-based group is not supposed to be collecting donations here in Massachusetts.

“They’re a scam,” said Jesse Flynn of Disabled American Veterans.

Flynn said the group offers no programs for veterans. “This hurts veterans. It hurts the public obviously because they’re giving their money thinking it’s going to help veterans.”

Dan Magoon fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I was fortunate to make it back and, you know, have all my fingers, hands and arms and still be alive.”

We asked Magoon, who now heads the effort to build the Fallen Heroes Memorial in the Seaport District, what he thought of the activities of Veterans Community Foundation.

“It hurts,” he said. “They’re taking advantage of people you don’t take advantage of.”

The I-Team found that some of the same people running this charity used to work for another group — Veterans Support Organization — which has been fined or banned in six other states.

“It’s the same employees, same tactics,” said Flynn.

There are strict rules that charities in Massachusetts must follow so that the public can be sure that their donations are actually used to help veterans. They must fully disclose their finances with Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office, for one.

But Veterans Community Foundation has not done that.

“We actually have no concrete information about how much they have raised, where that money is going,” said Coakley.

Asked what she would say to people who are thinking of contributing to Veterans Community Foundation, Coakley said, “I would say think again.”

Kimberly Silva, Chief Executive Officer of Veterans Community Foundation, defended her charity in an interview with the I-Team.

“Like any start up business, you run into some challenges that you don’t expect,” Silva said. “I think if someone really looks at where we’re going, they think it’s fabulous. They think it’s necessary for veterans.”

Silva denies her group has any connection to that other troubled charity, Veterans Support Organization, even though they both worked out of the same office in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

We asked her how much money her group has raised so far. “I’d have to… honestly I’d have to look it up,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared that you were going to ask me that question.”

When pressed for an estimate, Silva said, “Ah, a hundred thousand dollars.”

And how much has her charity spent? “A lot of it, quite honestly, I haven’t spent yet,” she said.

Silva blames her group’s problems on one innocent paperwork error, but the Attorney General isn’t buying it.

“They failed to do what they’re supposed to do, they failed to respond to our inquiries to do what they’re supposed to do, and yet they are still actively soliciting funds in Massachusetts,” Coakley said.

Meanwhile, the AG’s Office went into superior court Wednesday and obtained a temporary restraining order barring the group from soliciting donations in Massachusetts.

Coakley’s office also accused Veterans Community Foundation of falsely claiming 80 percent of their donations go directly to benefit veterans.

MORE LOCAL NEWS FROM CBS BOSTON

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