Veterans charity accused of breaking law in Tennessee

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–  Rhode Island-based Veterans Support Organization operates in Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, and several states in the Northeast; claimed to offer assistance with housing, jobs, bus passes, meals, health care and addiction recovery, but it didn’t actually offer those services in Tennessee –

By Brian Haas in The Tennessean

A veterans organization faces up to $50,000 in fines after it was accused of breaking state charity laws by not registering and falsely claiming to offer certain services.

The Tennessee Department of State found that Veterans Support Organization, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit charity, violated the state’s charitable solicitations law 10 times while raising money in Tennessee.

According to a department release Monday, the charity claimed to offer assistance with housing, jobs, bus passes, meals, health care and addiction recovery, but it didn’t actually offer those services in Tennessee. The state said the charity also failed to register in Tennessee.

“It is unfortunate that this organization has tried to take advantage of the great respect Tennesseans have for our nation’s veterans,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said Monday in a statement.

Justin Wells, chief operating officer for the charity’s South Florida chapter, said the group’s charity license had lapsed in July, but they’ve already filed paperwork to get properly licensed.

“We have an extension in as of this weekend,” he said. “Some of these things slip by us once in awhile. We took care of it as soon as we could.”

Charity arrived in January

He said the charity came to Tennessee in January and has been donating money to local veterans causes and that they have been providing services for local veterans. He said the state has been picking on the charity since they arrived.

The charity is registered in Warwick, R.I., according to tax documents, but operates in Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and several states in the Northeast.

Though its stated mission is to aid veterans, almost half of the nonprofit’s expenditures have gone toward fundraising in recent years. According to the latest available IRS tax documents, only 52 percent of the charity’s expenditures went toward actual program costs and services in 2007. The prior year was even lower, tax records show.

According to the American Institute of Philanthropy and other similar charity watchdogs, nonprofits should put at least 60 percent to 65 percent of its spending toward program costs.

Wells said that since 2007, the charity’s program spending has been around 65 percent or higher, in line with charity best practices.

Contact Brian Haas at 615-726-8968 or bhaas@tennessean.com.

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