CHICAGO (WANE) – It’s the same story, different city for the Sandbox Veterans. The so-called charity dissolved its Fort Wayne operation following a 15 Finds Out investigation. But now, the same group members have been spotted collecting donations in Chicago, claiming to be with the “Catholic Veterans of Illinois.”
From 2011 to 2014, members of the Sandbox Veterans approached drivers in Fort Wayne asking for donations. They claimed the money went to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The group, however, wouldn’t outline exactly where the money was going.
Members of the group are no strangers to the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, either. Folks living in Edgewater say the Catholic Veterans of Illinois began panhandling for donations at the beginning of this past winter, disappeared for a while, then showed up again in the spring (after 15 Finds Out aired its series of special reports).
“It just didn’t add up, you know. The same three guys every day, seven days a week from in the morning until the afternoon,” said Lupe Davila, Edgewater resident.
But as the weather warmed up, reporter/producer Ben Woodard with DNAinfo.com Chicago began investigating the group.
“I got a call from a community member who said, ‘Hey, we got these really aggressive panhandlers who are in the middle of traffic, requesting donations for Catholic Veterans,’” Woodard said. “But they weren’t so convinced that they were collecting money for Catholic veterans.”
Woodard said members Adam Silvani and John Cantrell panhandled on a busy road leading into downtown Chicago. After observing their tactics, Woodard approached Silvani.
“[Silvani] said, ‘Is this going to be a positive story or a negative story?’ And I said, ‘Well I’m just here to get the facts,’” Woodard explained. “He said himself he was a veteran who really wanted to help other veterans who may have been struggling to pay rent or medical bills or whatever.”
Despite the story, 15 Finds Out has uncovered that according to national archives, there’s no record of Silvani, Cantrell, or leader Roger Locke ever serving in the military.
“[Silvani] wouldn’t specify where the money was going, so that’s what really concerned me as a reporter and a journalist trying to keep people in check,” Woodard said. “And I couldn’t find one organization who had accepted donations from this group or any people who may have benefited from what they were doing.”
Woodard began to dig deeper into the so-called charity. When looking up its members online, he came across the 15 Finds Out series of special reports on the Sandbox Veterans.
This wasn’t the first time the group changed its name. In July of 2013, 15 Finds Out spotted Cantrell and Silvani using a “Catholic Veterans” sign near Lima Road and Dupont Road in Fort Wayne.
A couple people who saw Silvani and Cantrell collecting donations in Chicago weren’t surprised that they were doing the exact same thing in Fort Wayne.
“I would believe that,” Davila said. “Because I think they were ripping people off and they got away with it for quite a while.”
In the end, Woodard’s story had a similar effect in the north-side Chicago neighborhood.
“They sort of disappeared. We haven’t seen them since,” Woodard said.
Woodard has heard reports that the group has moved to different Chicago neighborhoods. Silvani and Cantrell have also been cited for selling used Bibles around Fort Wayne.
On Monday, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office confirmed that it has sent a letter to “Catholic Veterans of Illinois.” Officials in Illinois are seeking more information on the group’s finances and whether it needs to be registered with that state.
The Indiana Attorney General had previously summoned the Sandbox Veterans to court. That hearing was initially scheduled for Tuesday, but has since been canceled. The court failed to get a signature back from the Sandbox Veterans, confirming the group received its summons. In order to reschedule the hearing, the Indiana Attorney General can now either publish the summons in the newspaper or have the Allen County Sheriff’s Dept. make contact with the group.
15 Finds Out will continue to follow the Indiana Attorney General’s Office’s investigation into the Sandbox Veterans and will provide updates as soon as the information becomes available.