The United States Navy Veterans Association, a nonprofit veterans group, has come under fire in a half dozen states for allegedly using donations to fund Republican candidates and committees, including many in Minnesota. But the group has also plagiarized the work of American troops and school children in a supposed attempt to gain legitimacy.
The St. Petersburg Times reports that the group plagiarized a letter by Vivian N. Kamara, a U.S. sailor stationed in Iraq, written to students at Academy of Saints Peter and Paul in Loretto, Minn. The students at the school had written letters to troops overseas, and Kamara had written back to thank them.
USNVA, however, copied Kamara’s “thank you” to the children at the academy and used it on its website without permission. To make matters worse, USNVA changed the name of the school to “the Middlesex County Girl Scout troop.”
“That is such a bizarre thing to do,” Heidi Dondelinger, an administrator at the academy, told the St. Petersburg Times last month. “What’s so frustrating is that it was so important to our kids to do these letters for the soldiers.
“That some other group is getting the credit is so upsetting. And all to put money in someone’s pocket.”
The Times also reports that Girl Scout groups in both Middlesex County, Virginia, and Middlesex County, New Jersey Girl said they had nothing to do with the letter.
In fact, the troop number listed by USNVA doesn’t seem to exist.
More on the story: Vets charity allegedly funneled donations to Minnesota Republicans
by Andy Birkey, Minnesota Independent
A veteran’s charity under investigation in five states has deep ties to Minnesota, from substantial contributions to state Republicans like former Sen. Norm Coleman and Rep. Michele Bachmann to its employment of a Minnesota lobbyist and a recently closed St. Paul operation. Officials in other states are calling the United States Navy Veterans Association (USNVA) a fraudulent charity, and its founder and sole organizer, Bobby Thompson, has disappeared in the wake of investigations alleging the group diverted charitable donations intended for military veterans to Republican candidates and political action committees.
USNVA is under investigation in Ohio, Florida, Hawaii, Virginia, Missouri and New Mexico for allegedly defrauding donors, and two weeks ago, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray was granted an emergency court order to shut down USNVA and prevent it from taking any more donations in the state.
“The closer we look at this organization, the more outrageous its conduct appears,” Cordray said at the time. “While very little concrete evidence is available how those funds were spent helping vets or their families, a great deal of information is available about political contributions made by Thompson personally to candidates or through the political action committee he created and to which he was the sole contributor, NAVPAC.”
At least $35,000 of donations from the group or its founder went to Minnesota politicians and entities, according to an investigation by the St. Petersburg Times (Fla.). In multiple gifts over several years, former Sen. Coleman took in $21,500, while Rep. Bachmann received the most recent contribution, $10,000 donated in April. The Republican Party of Minnesota received $2,000; the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee got $5,000, and Republican state House candidate David Carlson took in $500. Carlson, a candidate for state Senate, had listed his membership with the USNVA on his campaign website; the site was recently taken down.
In Virginia, nearly a dozen candidates responded to the controversy by donating contributions from Thompson or the USNVA to charity. Here in Minnesota, it’s unclear whether USNVA gifts have been returned or redirected to other charities. None of the Minnesota groups or candidates have responded to the Minnesota Independent’s query about their actions or plans related to these contributions.
Thompson and USNVA expended great effort in lobbying legislators in Virginia to make the group exempt from nonprofit disclosure laws. One of the lobbyists brought to Virginia by USNVA is Edwin Cain, a Minnesotan who’s done lobbying for the communities of Granite Falls, Stillwater and Marshall, as well as for the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce. Cain could not be reached for comment.
USNVA’s board lists two Minnesotans among its ranks, Commander John Clinton or a Lt. Commander Reint Reinders, but the Minnesota Independent couldn’t verify their residency in the state. Similarly, the group lists several officers on its 990s – or nonprofit disclosure forms – but a report by the St. Petersburg Times says they do not exist.
Also missing: USNVA’s legal team: On Wednesday, attorneys representing the group abruptly withdrew as USNVA’s legal counsel, citing an inability to contact USNVA head Thompson. The lawyers were defending against attempts by the state of Ohio to seize all of USNVA’s records.
USNVA has raised more than $99 million since its founding in 2002. The following is a list of contributions made by the USNVA or Bobby Thompson to Minnesota campaigns or committees (PDF):
12/9/2006 Coleman for U.S. Senate, Minnesota $1,250
3/28/2007 Coleman for U.S. Senate, Minnesota $1,050
8/15/2007 Minnesota-Coleman Victory Committee $14,600
12/31/2007 Coleman for U.S. Senate, Minnesota $2,300
1/4/2008 Republican Party of Minnesota $1,000
1/4/2008 Republican Party of Minnesota $1,000
1/15/2008 Coleman for U.S. Senate, Minnesota $2,300
8/25/2008 Minnesota House Repub. Campaign Com. $5,000
9/4/2008 David J. Carlson for Minnesota House $500
4/7/2010 Minnesota-Bachmann Victory Committee $10,000