FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Despite concerns in the community, the director of the Sandbox Veterans wouldn’t share financial records or name any veterans he’s helped. 15 Finds Out discovered one woman who said the group provided her assistance. But several popular veteran agencies across Fort Wayne don’t know anything about the Sandbox Veterans.
“Volunteers” with the nonprofit organization approach drivers around Fort Wayne asking for donations. They say the money goes to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. But many drivers call them aggressive and city leaders call their tactics illegal.
So far, 15 Finds Out’s exclusive series of special reports has prompted the Indiana Attorney General’s Office to launch an investigation into the Sandbox Veterans.
On February 5, NewsChannel 15 put a call out on-air and online looking for anyone who had been helped by the Sandbox Veterans. The only person that came forward was Shari Markham.
“They actually were very generous and helpful for us,” Markham said. “They bought us a couple trips worth of groceries, at least $100-worth both times.”
Markham said she’s an Army veteran and her husband served in Iraq. She said her husband found the Sandbox Veterans through Facebook and they received help a couple times in 2012.
But Markham didn’t recognize any of the group’s members from previous 15 Finds Out stories.
“They did have a man with two appearance-wise teenage boys that helped me load the groceries into the house and put them away,” she said. “I thought it was unfair and kind of unjust that they’re looked at as just another scam when in fact they have helped people.”
Markham doesn’t know anyone else who’s been helped. When asked about the group’s failure to comment, she hoped its leaders would be more transparent.
“Say something,” she advised the group. “Say hey this is where we’re going. Give some kind of evidence because you did a great thing and you’re doing a great thing.”
Since no other veterans came forward, 15 Finds Out went to George Jarboe, Allen County Veterans’ Service Officer. Jarboe is one of the first people servicemen and women see when returning to Allen County from Iraq or Afghanistan.
“We try to get them enrolled in VA healthcare, education, disability compensation claims, low income pension programs, VA insurance programs,” he explained.
Jarboe didn’t know anyone who the Sandbox Veterans have helped.
“I don’t hear everything, but you would think out of all the veterans we have coming through our door, someone would mention the organization if they received help from them,” he said. “Pressure sales like that should never be done through a veteran charitable organization…It’s an easy way to hit someone up for some money and pretty much tug on their heart-strings so to speak and get a few bucks out of them.”
The following veterans’ agencies across Allen County couldn’t list anyone helped by the Sandbox Veterans either:
- VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System
- Every VFW in Fort Wayne
- Every American Legion in Fort Wayne
- The airmen and family readiness program manager with the 122nd Fighter Wing
Roger Locke is the director of the Sandbox Veterans. In an email, Locke said his organization gets an average 30 requests a day for help. To prove it, he forwarded some of the needs.
Dee Brattain was one of the ones who asked Locke for assistance. She is not a veteran and said she doesn’t have any immediate family members who are vets.
On the evening of January 23, Brattain said Locke posted on a popular Facebook page called “Pay it Forward Allen County.” She said he asked if anyone needed help and a handful of people, including Brattain, responded. Locke’s post came on the same day 15 Finds Out began emailing him questions about his organization.
“Gentleman named Roger, he wants to help people. He asked if I would email him,” Brattain said. “I guess that I will be hearing from him again. But I don’t know too much about it.”
Janice Capatina, director of “Pay it Forward Allen County,” didn’t like Locke’s post. She said it was the first time he posted on her site and discovered Locke created a similar Facebook page called “The Church of Paying it Forward.” After what she calls a rude encounter with the Sandbox Veterans leader online, she had his post removed.
“I’m always skeptical of posts like that and I like to protect as many of the members as I can,” Capatina said. “It just didn’t feel right…I want everybody to know we are not affiliated with this organization.”
A couple others from the “Pay it Forward Allen County” page forwarded 15 Finds Out emails from Locke assuring them he would help with their needs. Despite Locke’s promises, all of them say they have yet to receive any help from Locke or the Sandbox Veterans.
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office didn’t have any updates on its investigation into the Sandbox Veterans. 15 Finds Out will follow up with state officials and have developments on their investigation as soon as they become available.
Tune in next week as 15 Finds Out highlights what area organizations are doing to help Iraq and Afghanistan Vets with PTSD.