US Navy Veterans loses its attorneys and its fundraisers

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* By Jeff Testerman and John Martin St. Petersburg Times *

TAMPA — The lawyers who have run interference for the U.S. Navy Veterans Association for months now say they can no longer represent the charity because all its directors have quit or disappeared.

In court papers filed Wednesday in Ohio, attorney Shaun K. Petersen said his firm must withdraw as counsel for the Navy Veterans because the charity’s board has dwindled to a single member — founder Bobby Thompson — and he has been impossible to find for more than three weeks.

Petersen, of Mac Murray, Petersen & Shuster, was defending the Navy Veterans group as Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray sought restraining orders to seal mailboxes used by the charity and to freeze its bank accounts as part of a multistate crackdown on the charity, originally set up and run from Tampa.

But recent attempts to advise the Navy Veterans “of significant recent legal matters have been regularly ignored,” Petersen’s motion said, leaving counsel no choice but to “withdraw from representation immediately.”

The lawyers are not the only ones deserting the Navy Veterans. The telemarketers who raised millions of dollars for the charity also have cut all ties.

Associated Community Services of Southfield, Mich., and Community Support Inc. of Milwaukee ended all agreements to solicit donations for the Navy Veterans and its state chapters, according to letters the two companies sent to Florida regulators.

The two telemarketing companies helped the Navy Veterans’ reported income grow from a few thousand dollars in 2002 to $27.3 million last year. But now CSI says too many questions remain unanswered about the charity, which is under investigation by several states, the IRS and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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