People with soft spots in their hearts for veterans contributed $5.5 million in car donations to a Tampa charity called VetMade Industries, Inc.
The public was told 93 percent of those donations went to the cause of helping our heroes.
An 8 On Your Side investigation showed that figure is way off.
Now we have learned VetMade Industries, Inc., failed to follow Florida law.
VetMade was required to register with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
According to the state, the charity did not register until 8 On Your Side started asking questions about the organization in June.
According to VetMade Industries’ web page, 41 percent of disabled veterans are unemployed.
Unemployed, disabled, veterans are everywhere.
“There’s so many problems that vets have today,” said Army veteran Ken Cook.
That’s why Cook volunteered at VetMade Industries.
He thinks he chose the wrong charity.
“It wasn’t doing what it was advertising on its website,” explained Cook.
VetMade’s website claims its mission is to hire unemployed disabled veterans, teach them a skill, woodworking, and prepare them for re-entry into the workforce.
Sounds noble enough.
Except, as of June 2018, the charity had not registered with the state as required by law.
That perplexed VetMade Industries founder and Executive Director John Campbell.
“The registration of the charity, I don’t know, I’ll have to look in the background. Adam Putnam’s office just sent me the [application], so I’ll fill it out,” Campbell stated.
Campbell was unable to answer several of our questions about VetMade Industries, its advertising on the web, expenses, etc.
Nonetheless, he hopes to restart the program with what he has at his Cypress Street workshop.
“As you can see it’s pretty dilapidated equipment,” Campbell stated.
The doors at VetMade Industries have been closed for the last five years, while fundraising continued.
The equipment was rarely used.
VetMade Industries 990 tax form states the organization spent several thousand dollars on equipment in 2016.
So why is the equipment dilapidated and where is the new equipment the organization told the IRS it spent thousands on?
“I’ll have to look at the spreadsheets for that,” said Campbell.
“I don’t get how he cannot answer a basic question,” stated Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch, a nonprofit watchdog.
Borochoff is troubled that VetMade Industries’ doors were closed while it collected $5.5 million in donations, and that most of the money, $4.9 million dollars, went to a professional fundraiser.
Campbell states he has been able to put $300,000 in the bank for VetMade Industries.
He is preparing to try to re-launch the program in November on Veterans Day.
Borochoff is also concerned VetMade Industries uses insignias of the U.S. military on its car donation page.
“We think this is pretty serious so we wrote the Department of Defense warning of this,” explained Borochoff.
“We don’t want donors to get confused and think that the branches of our armed services are endorsing this poorly performing charity.”
The Department of Defense prohibits the use of military service insignias to bolster online presence or fundraising of any sort.
According to VetMade Industries’ webpage, once a veteran passes through its doors, he or she will have the tools to realize a prosperous and happy life.
First it needs to open those doors.
If you know of something that should be investigated, call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1-800-338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org.