FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – After watching a 15 Finds Out investigation and hearing complaints from members of the community, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office has launched its own investigation into the Sandbox Veterans.
“Volunteers” with the organization collect donations from drivers stopped at intersections around Fort Wayne. They say the money goes to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But many in the community have concerns about where donations are really going.
Leaders with the city of Fort Wayne say the Sandbox Veterans’ tactics are illegal. Many drivers call their fundraising aggressive. While the group may collect money in perhaps the most public way, the Sandbox Veterans were far less willing to outline the group’s finances.
After 15 Finds Out began airing investigations into the group, leaders with the Attorney General’s Office watched the stories and heard from a handful of residents who filed formal complaints against the Sandbox Veterans. Abby Kuzma, director of consumer protection for the AG’s office, said that was enough for leaders to launch an investigation.
“We will be contacting the Sandbox Veterans and see what they have to say about the complaints and get as much information as we can,” Kuzma said. “We would look for waste of assets, we would look for fraudulent sort of activity…if they’re being deceptive in their practices in terms of solicitation or other things they might be doing, we could look at that as well.”
The Sandbox Veterans organization has made it difficult to find its financial records. The group is not recognized as a nonprofit with the federal government, or 501(c)(3). But it is listed as a nonprofit with the state. That certification has fewer regulations and is much easier to get.
A 501(c)(3)’s financial records are public, whereas a group doesn’t even have to provide financial records to be a nonprofit with the state.
“We cannot get typically very much information other than the articles and bylaws about an organization that’s filed with the state if they’re not a 501(c)(3),” Kuzma said. “Of course you don’t have to be a 501(c)(3). There’s not a requirement that you apply with the federal government. But it does give the public less information about you and you have less advantages in terms of being a charitable organization as well.”
Personal finances and criminal activity
The leaders of the Sandbox Veterans have a personal background with finances and criminal activity that’s important for potential donors to understand. Roger Locke is the organization’s director. He incorporated the Sandbox Veterans of America in 2011. Locke personally filed for bankruptcy nine years earlier in 2002. On the criminal side, a judge in Illinois convicted him of retail theft in 1992.
Adam Silvani also “volunteers” with the organization. He filed for bankruptcy in 2002, just like Locke. Court records show Silvani pleaded guilty to nonsupport of a dependent child in 2008, a class D felony.
Silvani’s ex-wife, Tiana Pattee, said since his probation ended, Silvani once again stopped paying child support this past year.
“I don’t understand why he would help veterans when he doesn’t even help his children,” said Pattee.
Kuzma said the state’s investigation into the Sandbox Veterans won’t leave out any questions that need asked. She’s unsure how long it will take, but 15 Finds Out will provide updates as soon as they become available.
In the meantime, Kuzma shared some advice for drivers who come across groups like the Sandbox Veterans.
“We want to caution people not to feel pressured to give when somebody is being aggressive,” she said. “That’s not a good sign. Frankly it’s a red flag for us.”
A spokesman with the Fort Wayne Police Department said Wednesday, officers responded to a complaint about two people selling Bibles door to door. He said they were the same two men that have been collecting money for the Sandbox Veterans.
Although the Sandbox Veterans’ financial records may not be public, 15 Finds Out has been speaking with veterans organizations across Fort Wayne about the organization. Hear what they had to say, as 15 Finds Out continues its series of investigations next week.