ROCKFORD — The Illinois attorney general has announced a settlement by the state and more than 20 other states in a lawsuit accusing a Rockford-based veterans nonprofit of scamming donations.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued VietNow National Headquarters after an investigation found the nonprofit had raised more than $20 million between 2003 and 2014, but spent 80 percent of those donations on payments to for-profit telemarketers, the Rockford Register Star reported. Most of the remaining funds went to administrative expenses, leaving little for the program to help veterans, according to the newspaper investigation.
Madigan agreed to an order Monday that dissolves the agency’s board of directors and bans its four controlling officers from any fundraising, charity management or oversight of any charitable assets in Illinois. The nonprofit’s assets will be split between two legitimate organizations that assist Vietnam veterans.
“For years VietNow has scammed donations from people who thought their money would be used to support necessary services for our military veterans,” Madigan said. “Instead, VietNow pocketed donations and did virtually nothing for veterans. Today’s settlement finally will put an end to VietNow’s egregious fraud.”
But local branches of VietNow will continue operating and serving veterans in their communities, says Darrell Gilgan, treasurer of the Rockford Charter Chapter VietNow.
“VietNow was started right here in Rockford during 1980,” Gilgan told The Times Tuesday. “When VietNow went national during 1984, we became Rockford Charter Chapter.”
Gilgan stressed that dollars for the local chapters only come from local fundraising efforts, and was not tied to the national organization.
“It’s most important for everyone to understand that all of our chapters are separate corporate entities and have never benefited from telemarketing,” he says. “Each dollar earned by the local chapters is used in their communities.”
He hopes efforts over the past two years will help stave off any damage to the various local groups’ fundraising.
“The chapter will easily be able to survive without (the) national headquarters,” he said. “In fact, most if not all of the other chapters will be able to continue.”
Gilgan adds that he has been working with local chapters across the country since 2015 to transition away from the national organization. The VietNow chapter in Rockford has about 300 members.
The 23 other states investigating VietNow will enter into a state-specific settlement agreement with the nonprofit that’s similar to those in the Illinois order. R.
–Associated Press with Staff reports