Ex-donor demands answers from Wounded Warrior Project
Man who raised $325K for charity in 8 years wants CEO to resign
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A petition circulating on Change.org is demanding answers from the CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project.
Fred Kane, the man leading the charge, is a donor who spent the last eight years raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the veterans charity.
He said he was rattled by investigative reports on News4Jax that looked into questionable spending by the charity.
Kane said he started a charity, Tee Off For A Cause, as a helpful distraction while his two sons were deployed overseas in 2008. Kane said that in eight years, his charity raised $325,000, and every penny went to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Kane was awarded the Wounded Warrior Project Carry Forward Award in 2013. He said he never imagined then that he'd later be demanding accountability of the charity and its leader on social media.
He said he hopes his petition, “We Demand Accountability of Wounded Warrior Project,” will lead to CEO Steven Nardizzi stepping down.
The petition, which had garnered nearly 150 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, also addresses three lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“I think they've gone off the rails and what bothers me the most is probably the fact the CEO, Steve Nardizzi, has not been out in front of this,” Kane said.
Kane, who is based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, spoke to News4Jax investigators via Skype.
He reached out to News4Jax after seeing the investigative reports in January involving three whistleblowers, who came forward to talk about questionable spending by the Wounded Warrior Project. Kane even took to the charity's Facebook page to get his own answers after the reports aired.
“I was very surprised. Of course, all three came out at once, the Times, CBS and yours, and it was very disturbing,” Kane said.
Kane did disclose that he applied several times to work for WWP but was never considered. He said that never stopped him from raising money for the organization.
Now, he said he's worried the money he raised went not toward veterans' needs but toward elaborate annual staff yearbooks and employee-related events, like Nardizzi scaling down the side of Colorado resort The Broadmoor to make a grand entrance at an employee training event.
“The Broadmoor trip, the yearbook spending, that is just totally inappropriate use of donor dollars,” Kane said. “Considering this comes from Wounded Warrior Project, most of the donations come from people 65 and over.”
Kane's petition calls for "an open and public, independent audit and full accountability to answer allegations."
In January, News4Jax asked Wounded Warrior Project for receipts from the trips. That request has not been granted.
Kane said he does not trust Nardizzi to continue to run WWP.
“Like I've said before -- and I would tell him this to his face -- 'You don't hide. You lead from the front.' I don't care what your PR firm tells you,” Kane said.
Kane is also upset by a figure in Wounded Warrior Project's most recent tax filing showing $150,000 in donor dollars was paid to another nonprofit, the Charity Defense Council. Nardizzi is a board member of that nonprofit, which writes about its views on charities online, including "we will not be forced to speak about overhead when we want to speak about impact."
“That's not Wounded Warrior Project's mission, and I had a phone call with Al Giordano last week, and I told him that was not their mission,” Kane said. “He told me it was a trade group, and I disagreed -- to put it nicely. It's a lobbying organization."
Giordano is the charity's chief operating officer, the second in charge, under Nardizzi.
Kane said he also expressed his disappointment to Giordano about eight years of hard work that's really been a family-wide effort .
“My 6-year-old granddaughter has a lemonade stand. The other day, I was taking her to school, and she said to me, 'You know what, grandpa. I'm very depressed,' and I asked why and she said, 'Well, we're not going to have the golf tournament,'” Kane said. “I believe (Wounded Warrior Project's reputation is irretrievably damaged), and I told Al Giordano that. Basically, the genie is out of the bottle, and you're never going to get the genie back in. Not going to happen.
“I hope there is a change in leadership, and they keep doing the good work they can do.”
Kane said the golf tournaments for this year are canceled, but they might regroup in 2017 if they find another charity to support.
A second petition on Change.org is also calling for Nardizzi to step down.
News4Jax contacted Wounded Warrior Project this week, asking for the eighth time to speak with Nardizzi, but the request was denied.
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