The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Jeremy Schwartz, Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Attorney General’s office has charged the Veterans Support Organization, a Florida-based charity that has come under fire in several states, with deceiving Texas donors by falsely telling them their donations would help needy local veterans.

In a lawsuit filed this week in Travis County District Court, state prosecutors seek to seize funds raised by the group in Texas and bar the group from operating in the state. For several years, the group operated chapters in Austin, Dallas and Houston, sending veterans and non-veterans alike to stand outside of supermarkets and other stores to raise money. According to the lawsuit, the group raised $2.5 million in the state between 2010 and 2012.

The attorney general’s office is also seeking tens of thousands of dollars in fines against VSO president Richard Van Houten and three associates.

In February, the American-Statesman published an investigation into the group, revealing that it gave less than 1 percent of the $7.1 million it raised from the public in 2011 in grants to needy veterans. Members of the Austin and Dallas chapters quit as a group in December after managers said they became aware of how much money the group was sending out of state.

According to the lawsuit, solicitors told members of the public their donations would help needy local veterans. In reality, between 2010 and 2012 the group made grants of less than $57,000 to Texas veterans, or 2.2 percent of what it raised in the state during those years.

State investigators believe that over 70 percent of what the group raised in Texas was sent to Rhode Island and Florida, where the group’s headquarters are.

And while the group claimed it was helping at-risk veterans with a “work program,” state officials called it “nothing more than structured panhandling which they use to solicit funds.”

Texas authorities also took issue with the program’s housing program, which the group touted as transitional sober housing for homeless veterans.

The Statesman revealed that the program rented rooms to its solicitors for $125 a week at a five-bedroom house in far south Austin. According to the lawsuit, VSO leased the house for $1,495 a month, but stood to make $5,000 a month if the house was completely full.

The group deducted rent from its employees’ paychecks and filed eviction notices against solicitors who lost their jobs or were unable to pay rent.

“In contrast to its statement that it was seeking to help ‘homeless veterans,’ in practice VSO was interested in individuals, veterans or not, who could afford to pay for a room,” the lawsuit claims. “In fact for some individuals, VSO noted ‘inability to pay’ as a reason for their departure. An inability to pay would seem to be the rationale for having a housing program to assist veterans, but VSO instead saw it as a reason to displace them.”

Photo: Cosmic Smudge via Flickr

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Mark Levin

Politico reported Friday that John Eastman, the disgraced ex-law professor who formulated many of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, was also apparently in communication with Fox News host Mark Levin. The story gets even more interesting from there, revealing the shell game that right-wing media personalities engage in while doubling as political operatives.

A legal filing by Eastman’s attorneys reveals that, among the messages Eastman is still attempting to conceal from the House January 6 committee are 12 pieces of correspondence with an individual matching Levin’s description as “a radio talk show host, is also an attorney, former long-time President (and current board chairman) of a public interest law firm, and also a former fellow at The Claremont Institute.” Other details, including a sloppy attempt to redact an email address, also connect to Levin, who did not respond to Politico’s requests for comment.

Keep reading... Show less

Sen. Wendy Rogers

Youtube Screenshot

There have been powerful indicators of the full-bore radicalization of the Republican Party in the past year: the 100-plus extremist candidates it fielded this year, the apparent takeover of the party apparatus in Oregon, the appearance of Republican officials at white nationalist gatherings. All of those are mostly rough gauges or anecdotal evidence, however; it’s been difficult to get a clear picture of just how deeply the extremism has penetrated the party.

Using social media as a kind of proxy for their real-world outreach—a reasonable approach, since there are few politicians now who don’t use social media—the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights decided to get a clearer picture of the reach of extremist influences in official halls of power by examining how many elected officials participate in extremist Facebook groups. What it found was deeply troubling: 875 legislators in all 50 states, constituting nearly 22% of all elected GOP lawmakers, identified as participating members of extremist Facebook groups.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}