Wounded Warrior CEO optimistic group can recover from scandal

Group's spending practices were uncovered in explosive I-TEAM investigation

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's been more than two years since the Wounded Warrior Project was rocked by a scandal surrounding allegations of excessive salaries and lavish spending, but the Jacksonville-based charity continues to face an uphill battle as it works to win back the public's trust.

The nonprofit organization was the subject of a year-long I-TEAM investigation into its spending practices after whistleblowers came forward with stories of frivolous expenses, like a retreat at a 5-star resort in Colorado Springs that catered to employees, not the veterans they serve.

Despite seeing a drop of more than $150 million in donations in the fallout of the spending scandal, leaders said Tuesday they're committed to restoring trust in the organization as well finding a way to stop the financial hemorrhaging brought about by the scandal.

Wounded Warrior Project CEO Mike Linnington was in Washington, D.C., Tuesday preparing for a soldier ride through the nation's capital. He was joined by a number of veterans as they were outfitted for adaptive bikes they will ride this week for the big event.

Linnington took charge of the organization in September 2016, several months after predecessor Steven Nardizzi was fired. Under his leadership, the group has had a lot fewer dollars to work with than before the scandal broke, despite public relations efforts.

Shortly after taking the job, Linnington was optimistic about finding ways to bounce back. "We've lost about 25 percent of generous Americans' donations and we hope to build that back quickly. Next year is going to be a very important year for us," he said.

But documents filed this month with the IRS show that next year was worse. In fact, the group reported $211 million in donations for 2017 -- the lowest amount received in five years. That's compared to $303 reported in 2016 and $373 million the year before that.

 

Despite the drop in donations, Linnington has his sights set on the future. He released a statement to the I-TEAM Tuesday, saying the group's focus "remains squarely on our commitment to serving warriors and their families."

"We have experienced four consecutive quarters of growth, and expect to invest over $200 million into our life-changing programs" in 2018, the statement said in part.

At last check, the charity estimates it currently serves 142,652 veterans and their families. The group said veterans will never pay a penny for the programs they receive, including mental health and career counseling as well as long-term rehabilitative care.

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