People donated millions to Tampa charity VetMade Industries, Inc., to help train unemployed, disabled veterans.
The program was designed to teach veterans how to make Adirondack style furniture and get them them used to reporting for work and getting a paycheck.
An 8 On Your Side investigation found as donations from a generous public poured in, the woodworking shop at VetMade Industries stayed empty, the machinery sat idle, the doors closed tight.
According to founder and Executive Director John Campbell, the whole program was on hold.
How long has it been on hold?
“Going on five years, that we’re, I call it a caretaker status,” Campbell explained.
Tax records show that in three years, $5.5 million dollars in donations flowed into VetMade Industries.
During that same period, not one veteran received training.
“Zero goes to the veterans,” retired Army veteran Ken Cook said.
Cook was among the original volunteers at VetMade Industries when it launched in 2009.
What he found was disappointing.
“There was a high falutin fancy program on paper, but the reality was that there wasn’t any kind of organized training going on in any way, shape or form,” Cook stated.
The goal of the program is to train veterans and help them find work.
How many veterans successfully completed VetMade’s training program?
“I don’t have the tracking data to tell you,” said Campbell.
What Campbell does know is that he ran out of money, put the program on hold, then found a source of revenue.
“We contracted with a professional fundraising company in California,” Campbell said.
That for-profit fundraising company is called Just Donated.
“We’ve been able to get $300,000 in the bank,” added Campbell.
“This man is taking money away from veterans,” said Cook.
How does Campbell justify collecting money for the last 5 years, banking $300,000 and not helping any veterans?
“That’s tough and the optics are bad,” Campbell said. “But that’s unfortunately, that’s the reality of having to build capital.”
How about building trust?
Just Donated promises charities that it raises money for a steady flow of donated vehicles.
Just Donated’s webpage stated 93 percent of funds donated to VetMade Industries “go directly to the cause of helping our heroes.”
In fact, VetMade tax forms show 96 percent of donations pay for expenses, most of that goes to Just Donated.
“Once again, perhaps I have failed in my due diligence to read exactly what they’re saying on their website representing us,” explained Campbell.
According to an agreement on file with the California Attorney General’s Office, VetMade Industries has final say over all representations made by Just Donated about VetMade Industries.
Since 8 On Your Side began asking questions, Just Donated changed its website so that it no longer states 93 percent of the funds “go directly to the cause of helping our heroes.”
“This is outrageous,” Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch, stated.
Charity Watch is a nationally acclaimed non-profit watchdog.
“I would tell him to get out of the charity field because he’s taking money away that could go to actually helping veterans,” said Borochoff.
Campbell has decided that having $300,000 in the bank is enough to try to restart the VetMade Industries training program.
He claims he has hired a foreman to run the shop and hopes to re-open on Veterans Day.
“I mean think about it, $5 million over the last three years, that could be benefiting veterans who really need help,” said Borochoff.
If you have something that you think should be investigated, call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1-800-338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at email@example.com.