WASHINGTON — An organization claiming to be a charity for veterans is being told to shut down.
Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith and Attorney General Brian Frosh say a cease-and-desist order was issued to the Southern Maryland Veterans Association, director Dan Brashear and former associate Norman McDonald for violating state laws on charitable solicitation.
The Southern Maryland Veterans Association marketed itself as a group assisting with the housing needs of homeless veterans. But the organization had no account of the donations it received and was not registered with the secretary of state, information that came to light after the secretary of state’s office received several complaints.
The organization solicited potential donors at retail and grocery stores in Calvert County and other locations in Southern Maryland. The association also distributed documents saying that it was registered with the state even though it wasn’t.
“I commend the investigators who took these complaints seriously and took steps to make sure that any potential fraud was stopped,” Frosh said in a written statement. “This case shows again that we all must be vigilant, because there are unscrupulous people who care more about their own pockets than the welfare of the community.”
But one of the men listed in the order, the organization’s director Dan Brashear, tells WTOP that he nor the Southern Maryland Veterans Association meant any harm.
“In order for us to function, we have to have the trust of the community,” Brashear says. “The attorney general has already sat there and said ‘unscrupulous individuals will try and profit off of our veterans.’ I don’t make any profit off of this. I’m lucky if I have a pack of cigarettes a day.”
Brashear says that he plans to challenge the cease-and-desist order.
He says that the allegations stem from actions taken by a former employee of the organization, Norman McDonald, who was also named in the secretary of state’s office order.
“Everything they have accused us of stems from the fact that our former soliciting director, who embezzled about $40,000 to $60,000 as near as we can determine,” explains Brashear. “When we found out about it and he was terminated, he started a phone smear campaign. And I’ve even got text messages where he goes ‘I talked to the investigator at the fraud division for the secretary of state and the attorney general and I’ve agreed to testify against you.”
However, officials say it doesn’t matter what happened inside the organization, a charity has responsibilities to its donors and to the state.
“Regardless of which employee or which relationship went sour, the fact of the matter is they are not registered to be a charitable organization in the State of Maryland,” Attorney General’s office spokesman David Nitkin told WTOP.
Investigators believe the Southern Maryland Veterans Association collected thousands of dollars in cash and donated goods in 2014 and 2015. But they could not determine an exact total nor identify how that money was used.
State officials say the organization violated the Maryland Solicitations Act. Among the violations, the Southern Maryland Veterans Association and its members are accused of misleading potential donors to a charitable organization, using false and misleading advertising in connection with a solicitation and failing to register with the secretary of state before soliciting.
The attorney general’s office says it has no plans to file criminal charges against Brashear or McDonald. Any investigation into Brashear’s extortion claims would be handled by local criminal prosecutors.
State officials ask that anyone who has been solicited by the organization to contact the Secretary of State Charities and Legal Services Division at 410-260-3879.
To learn if a charity is registered or to report suspected violations, call 410-260-3879 or 1-800-825-4510, or visit the secretary of state’s charity page.