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Veterans living with bed bugs in building not zoned for residential use

Building cited for improperly using upstairs unit as rental property

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – Bed bugs, broken doors, and a moldy bathroom describes the condition that Local 10 News found some South Florida veterans living in a Pompano Beach building zoned for "heavy business" use and recently cited for renting a unit which the violation read is an improper use.

Several were stacked in a room; another veteran was sleeping in a closet.

The veterans who spoke with Local 10 said they were placed there by the Veterans In Need Foundation, which is located on the first floor of 1350 S. Dixie Highway.

Michael Janet, a Navy combat veteran in Vietnam, told Local 10 the organization is not delivering the services it promises when it solicits money from people at rest stops all across South Florida.

"These are veterans who have served with dignity and honor and deserve better treatment," Janet said. "They deserve a clean place to sleep (and) a clean mattress to sleep. Take some of that money that is given to you and give it to the veterans, provide better living conditions, doing things that you say in this brochure."

On a Veterans In Need Foundation solicitation card obtained by Local 10, the organization writes that donations collected will provide "free temporary housing assistance for homeless veterans." Janet said he was asked by the organization's leader, Joseph Haddy, to pay more than $500 in rent from his Veteran Affairs-issued benefits check.

When Haddy "found out how much I get from my veteran's check, then I was told I need to pay $535 a month to live there," Janet said. "I asked the other veterans who received veteran's checks. Some of those guys would pay $400. He charged you what he wanted to. It wasn't no set price. I thought that was unfair. I had to move out. The bed bug infestation was so bad. It was so bad I just had to move out. I would rather sleep out under the stars out on the streets than have to sleep in a place like that."

Vietnam veteran Roger Jones told Local 10 News consumer advocate Christina Vazquez that he was currently paying $400 in rent from his $1,000 a month VA check to live in his upstairs unit. He said the four other men sharing two small bedrooms covered their rent from donations they collected from the public.

IRS forms filed by the organization in 2012 reported total revenues of $483,853. The group said it spent $117,413 in housing, $85,463 in "payments to veterans -- work programs" and $101,539 in "transportation and temporary housing while working." Haddy received a salary of $38,790.

"Our goal is also to provide monetary assistance to our local VA hospitals' Voluntary Service Department to aide and support the vast number of helpful programs that they offer to Veterans," the Veterans In Need Foundation solicitation card goes on to state.

It is a statement also made on state registration forms between 2009 and 2011.

Vazquez checked with Marjorie Valdes, public affairs specialist for all of Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties for the Miami VA Healthcare System.

"Our voluntary service has reviewed their system records for the past two years and no donations are logged in from the Veterans in Need Foundation," she told Local 10.

Local 10 also contacted the West Palm Beach Medical Center that encompasses the seven counties of Palm Beach, Glades, Hendry, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee. Public affairs specialist Mary Goodman said there is "no record of donations from this group on file."

In its literature, the Veterans In Need Foundation states it will provide "transportation to work and medical appointments."

Janet and fellow veteran Robert Jones both said that it a rarity.

"We (were) provided no services for our appointments," he said.

"Broward County Elderly and Veterans Services Division has no familiarity with Veterans In Need Foundation, nor have we ever received any information about them," spokesman Owen Walker told Local 10.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has opened an investigation into the activities of this group.

Haddy suddenly canceled a scheduled interview with Vazquez and has yet to reschedule.

Janet and Jones said they wanted to call attention to the need for oversight and to force improvements, but not in an effort to shut it down.

"The veterans have nowhere else to go. Their choice is to put up with it or get back out on the streets," Janet said. "Veterans who have served their country with dignity and honor (are) subject to this, being preyed on by people for money. This is absolutely wrong. I can say that because I lived there and experienced it."

1350 S. DIXIE HIGHWAY

The building where Veterans In Need Foundation is located was recently cited for improperly using an upstairs unit as a rental property.

Following a citizen complaint filed Aug. 19, the city of Pompano Beach dispatched a task force to 1350 S. Dixie Highway on Oct. 27, but the team was denied access to several units by property manager Tim Rigoord.

The city did issue property owner EIRE 1350 S. DIXIE, LLC a citation. In the code compliance notice of violation and notice of hearing, it reads that the owner was in violation of Chapter 113: Business Tax Receipts 113.20(B). It reads: "Operations Inconsistent with Business Tax Receipt. Upstairs unit being used as rental property. Area is not zoned for residential (improper usage)."

READ: Code Compliance Notice Of Violation

According to Sandra King, spokeswoman for the city, that location is zoned for heavy business (B-4).

"The heavy business (B-4) district is established and intended to accommodate a wide and diverse range of moderate- to high-intensity retail, service, office, recreation/entertainment and institutional uses that provide goods and services serving a community, city-wide and regional customer bases," she said. "It also accommodates the city's major employment-generating non-industrial uses, as well as wholesaling, warehousing and limited light manufacturing uses. Residential uses are generally inappropriate in this district."

Vazquez contacted Mark Spillane of EIRE 1350 S. DIXIE, LLC, who has sidestepped repeated requests for an interview.

The Veterans In Need Foundation is located next to Haddy Auto at 1350 S. Dixie Highway, which are both run by Haddy. The city confirmed Haddy Auto does not have a business tax receipt.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Janet said one of the "work programs" offered by the group's leader involves crisscrossing the state each week to collect donations.

He said a caravan of cars depart from 1350 S. Dixie Highway on a Wednesday and return on a Sunday.

"They spread themselves out through the state of Florida taking these donations," Janet said. "And the citizens, you want to help these veterans, but do you know where your money (goes)? What help have they given these guys? I don't see any."

The cost of transportation and hotels are covered by the donations collected, Janet said, and the rest is given to Haddy when they return to Pompano Beach.

Local 10 checked with every district of the Florida Department of Transportation to track down the group's permit requests and approvals.

The Veterans In Need Foundation was issued a permit for a Broward County rest area on Interstate 75, 11 miles west of the toll plaza. It was the only permit in Broward County that was given to this group, according to FDOT district spokesman Chuck McGinness.

The group was approved for "bucket drop fundraising" every week from Wednesday to Sunday for the months of November and December.

The group also requested and was granted an FDOT permit for solicitation at the Polk County rest area, Charlotte County rest area, Collier County Alligator Alley facility, Manatee County rest area and Pinellas County Rest area north of the Skyway Bridge.

Robin Stublen, communications specialist for the FDOT in that district, said they have "not recently received any complaints regarding Veterans In Need Foundation."

Local 10 reviewed the group's 990 form filed with the Internal Revenue Service. In 2012, the group's total revenue was $483,853, and yet it reported zero fundraising expenses. Haddy reported a salary of $38,790.

RED FLAGS

A review of the organization's filed 990 forms with the IRS over the past several years also raised red flags for Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that evaluates charities.

Miniutti told Vazquez areas of concern included:

·         The charity only has three independent board members (see page 1). They recommend at least five.

·         While two board members have the same last name, they didn't disclose any family relationships on page 6, line 2.

·         The organization spent 70 percent of its budget on programs, almost 30 percent on administration and reports no fundraising expenses (see page 10). The lack of fundraising expenses is questionable.

·         No whistle blower policy, no conflict of interest policy, no CEO compensation policy

·         No audit or audit committee

·         100 percent of revenue comes from special events, but no associated costs to run those events reported.

·         No schedule G filed (which would provide details about the special events and associated costs).

COLLIER COUNTY 2011

Local 10 uncovered a 2011 incident report out of Collier County.

According to the Collier County Sheriff's Office, a deputy was dispatched to a Publix in reference to "two males wearing digital uniforms and soliciting money in front of Publix Supermarket." A man named John Kersher said he was the commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Naples and told the deputy that the "two men soliciting funds in front of Publix were misrepresenting the VFW by having their name associated with the Veterans In Need Foundation. John said the VFW does not solicit money."

The deputy said the men, identified as Alexander Hunter and Glenston McKenzie, appeared to have a "nervous" demeanor and "were wearing digital uniforms that resembled Army uniforms. The uniforms had no markings and were sterile. Alexander and Glenston had set up two collapsible tables, decorated with American flags and two large plastic buckets for collecting donations. Also on the tables was literature that said they were affiliated with the VFW."

Hunter told the deputy he worked for the Veterans In Need Foundation and lives in Pompano Beach at a shelter run by the group. He was previously homeless. As for McKenzie, "he had never served in the military." Both men were asked to leave the area.

In a supplemental report on that August day, Cpl. D. Butler stated that "an actual representative of the local VFW noticed the two men, disputed their claims of charity and called for sheriff's deputies to investigate." He wrote that in speaking with Hunter, "I informed him that wearing a sterile uniform, (wearing the uniform improperly) only disgraces the very service members that he claims to be trying to help. He stated that this attire is the official charity collection uniform of his organization. The men were instructed to pack up their belongings and leave the area because their presence was causing a disturbance."

The second filed report with the Collier County Sheriff's Office happened about a month earlier. A deputy was called to a Walmart in reference to a "suspicious person" collecting donations from the "Veterans In Need Foundation and was claiming association with the VFW."  The person who requested the call for service was a member of the local VFW post.

In his report, Deputy D. Mischalski wrote that Troy A. Shepherd was "in full battle dress uniform, standing behind a small collapsible table that was decorated with patriotic wares and a five-gallon bucket for the collection of donations." He wrote that Shepherd also had a "stack of cards that represent an affiliation with the VFW." Shepherd "was unable to provide any forms of identification issued by any military organization or his employer." Shepherd would eventually tell the deputy "he had only served seven months with the Navy before being discharged for smoking marijuana." Shepherd was issued a trespass warning.

 After Cpl. Hudson arrived at the scene, he called a representative from a local VFW branch who told him they "are not affiliated with the Veterans In Need Foundation and have been having problems with this organization soliciting in other Florida counties."

In an August follow-up report on the Shepherd incident, Sgt. A Dunn of the Collier County Sheriff's Office spoke with William Berardi from VFW Post 25000 in Hollywood.

"Mr. Merardi stated that they do work with the Veterans In Need Foundation in housing homeless veterans who are in the area," the report stated.

Vazquez spoke with Berardi by cellphone Friday. He said that he and Haddy help each other out when it comes to housing homeless veterans and that money flows both ways. When asked how much the Veterans In Need Foundation has donated this year to the VFW post in Hollywood, he said it was about $40,000.

In the organization's "Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax" 2012 form, the group reported it spent $117,413 on "housing for veterans."

READ: Veterans In Need Foundation 990s

When Vazquez asked Berardi about the housing units at 1350 S. Dixie Highway, he confirmed he knew about them and then the line was suddenly disconnected. Berardi did not answer follow-up calls, nor did he return the call.

Local 10 also contacted the VFW. In an email, Randi Law of the national VFW said their organization has not partnered with the Veterans In Need Foundation but that it is possible they could partner at a local level.

In its filed registration application with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services from 2009-11, the group said contributions "will be given to the volunteer services division of our local VA hospitals to help them with their beneficial veterans' programs." The language changes in 2012 to describe the purpose of the contributions as "helping veterans in need return to active members of society."

"These people have no heart for the veterans," Janet said. 

Follow Christina Vazquez on Twitter @CallChristinaTV

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