Medford-based vets charity named in lawsuit

The Oregon Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against a Medford-based veterans charity, alleging it used up to 80 percent of its donations for personal gain.

The state alleges the No Veterans Left Behind Association collected and used up to $17,000 improperly. Beginning in mid-2009, the group and its paid solicitors set up booths in front of major retail stores in several Oregon counties, selling veteran-related gear and soliciting cash donations, said Tony Green, spokesman for the Oregon Attorney General's Office.

Store owners and shoppers allegedly were told that No Veterans Left Behind was an all-volunteer group that gave 75 to 80 percent of its donations directly to needy veterans. In fact, the lawsuit alleges, the people who ran the organization kept at least 80 percent of the donations for their own use. A temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction have been filed to shut down No Veterans Left Behind and preserve what may be left of the donations and proceeds, Green said.

David Shane Gilbert, 39, of Medford, is named in the lawsuit as the president of No Veterans Left Behind.

Gilbert denies the state's allegations, saying his organization has helped many veterans in the Rogue Valley.

"They're trying to sue us for unlawful business practices," he said. "We done a lot for people. It's really a kick in the mouth."

Gilbert, who runs a landscaping business, said he became involved in the organization at the request of Jeffrey Frank Grishkowsky. Grishkowsky is listed as the group's vice president. He did not return calls from the Mail Tribune.

The organization operated up and down the Interstate 5 corridor, Gilbert said. They solicited funds by setting up booths outside local Walmarts, Ray's Food Place stores and other shops. Gilbert denies the volunteers were paid for the hours they worked. But their hotel rooms, food, drink and gas mileage were paid for out of the donations, he said.

"They actually got a gratuity," Gilbert said.

Most donations were in the $1 or $2 range. The cap for assistance was set at $200. The organization checked the debt-to-income ratio of all recipients and verified their veteran's status, Gilbert said.

Gilbert said his group helped veterans through collaborations with Rogue Valley Recovery Homes and other local organizations. He said about 50 percent of the donations collected went to help veterans. He did not know how much had been collected but did not dispute the attorney general's estimate of $17,000.

"There's a lot of people in this valley who we helped with rent and utilities. A lot of people who had Christmas because of us," he said.

Harry Detwiler, president of Rogue Valley Recovery Homes, said Gilbert's group spoke twice at board meetings and donated a packet of five bus passes for veterans residing at the homes. But after board members expressed concerns about the legitimacy of the organization, his group opted not to become affiliated with No Veterans Left Behind. Rogue Valley Recovery Homes received no money from Gilbert's group, Detwiler said.

"The concept was beautiful," Detwiler said. "But he never gave us a cent."

Gilbert said others have been using the nonprofit's name for their own practices.

"There's a lot of people in this valley setting up booths and claiming to be No Veterans Left Behind," he said. "They are fraudulent. Maybe (the state) is mistaking us for those people."

The state's subpoena was served in February requesting the group's paperwork and bank records. The organization stopped soliciting at that point, he said.

"We totally stopped it," Gilbert said. "It irks me to no end. We didn't steal nothing. (The state) ruined a good thing."

Gilbert is looking for legal representation to protect his organization from the $67,000 settlement the state is seeking.

"They want $17,000 in restitution, plus an additional $50,000 to pay for their investigation," Gilbert said. "We don't even have the money for an attorney."

The Oregon Department of Justice filed two additional lawsuits against groups soliciting donations for veterans. The second lawsuit is against Veterans of Oregon & Members of the Community and its fundraiser, Associated Community Services. Although ACS has raised more than $500,000 on behalf of VOMC, ACS kept 80 percent of the money it raised, Green said.

In addition to misleading donors, the defendants are charged with violating Oregon's no-call law and breaching fiduciary duties associated with operating as a charity. VOMC is accused of using the small fraction of the money it received to pay the expenses of the head of the charity and others to travel around the state awarding medals, he said.

A third lawsuit was filed against Community Support, a large national fundraiser that is accused of violating settlements it had previously reached with Oregon, including violating the do-not-call rule and failing to clearly disclose its professional fundraising status to donors. CS typically keeps at least 80 percent of the money it raises for veterans and other charities, the state alleges.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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