MIAMI – A U.S. Marine who worked under former Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado was arrested Wednesday after he and a friend were accused of stealing $300,000 of donated items meant to help military veterans in need.
Antonio "Tony" Colmenares, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, served as Miami's director of veteran services under Regalado and volunteered as the Miami director of The Florida Veterans Foundation, a nonprofit that was meant to offer support to the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs.
When Colmenares organized an event to help homeless veterans, he received more than 27,000 blankets and 9,700 ready-to-eat emergency meals, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
"These donated items should have gone to help feed and warm veterans struggling to get back on their feet — instead they were sold to fatten the pockets of those charged with preying on the good intentions of others," Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement.
Colmenares, 57, who helped to implement a Miami-Dade courts program focusing on military veterans in need of help, and his friend Antonio Sabatier, 60, were accused of selling donated items during 2014-2015 transactions and depositing the earnings to an account that was unrelated to the nonprofit.
Last year, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce recognized Colmenares as Military Service Person of the Year for supporting the community. He also worked as director of emergency services at the American Red Cross' South Florida region and was a board member of the Support 22 Project, a Delray Beach-based organization helping veterans with traumatic brain injuries.
While prominent members of the community trusted him, investigators believe Colmenares was pocketing money with the help of a friend.
The proceeds from the 2015 sale of the 27,000 blankets and 9,700 ready-to-eat emergency meals totaled about $46,800, which were deposited into an account of Nike Management, Sebatier's company, according to FDLE spokeswoman Angela Starke.
"The investigation uncovered that other donated items, such as sleeping bags, cots and backpacks, were also sold for profit," Starke said.
Investigators believe Colmenares and Sabatier sold about $79,400 worth of donations to Worldwide Tactical employees, who claim they did not know the donated items were being sold illegally.
"These items were donated with the express purpose to help our veterans who unselfishly serve our country," FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement. "To take advantage of any opportunity that would benefit them is indefensible."
Colmenares and Sabatier each face charges of first-degree grand theft.