On Thursday, the board of directors for the Wounded Warrior Project fired it’s top two executives. Now Former Chief Executive Officer, Steven Nardizzi, and former Operating Officer, Al Giordano, were in charge of running the now disgraced charity who’s mission was to help take care of wounded war vets.
The Wounded Warrior Project (W.W.P) was founded in 2003 in Roanoke, Virginia by military veteran John Melia with the help of his family and friends. Melia was seriously wounded after being involved in a helicopter crash while on tour in Somalia in 1992.
With the support of his family and friends, Melia decided to contribute by assembling backpacks for to fellow wounded veterans. Each backpack contained basic comfort items such as T-shirts, underwear, shorts, socks, toiletries and hygiene items. They also included things to help fellow vets pass the time such as CDs, CD players, and playing cards.
The backpacks were sent to military hospitals such as Bethesda Naval Hospital (Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Given it’s humble and well-intentioned origins, it was shocking to discover that such a noble organization had turned into the epitome of Wall Street greed and corruption.
Each year millions of Americans donate several hundred million dollars in donations to the W.W.P in order to give aid to the 52,000 wounded soldiers injured in places like Iraq and Afganistan.
However, CBS discovered that the W.W.P spends between 40 to 50 percent of those donations on overhead, which includes lavish parties authorized and thrown by Nardizzi and Giordano. To put excessive greed of these men into context, other charities serving veterans report overhead costs between 10 and 15 percent.
The W.W.P was able to raise over a billion dollars in donations since 2003. The charity raised $300 million dollars in 2014.
While the W.W.P was collecting millions from sympathetic hard working patriotic Americans, they were also spending millions on their extravagant conferences, a total of $26 million dollars in 2014 alone.
‘Let’s get a Mexican mariachi band in there, let’s get maracas made with the WWP logo put them on every staff member’s desk. Lets get it catered, have a big old party,’ said Eric Millette, a retired army staff sergeant.
Millette quite his job as a motivational speaker with W.W.P after witnessing the organization’s rampant greed for two years. He said:
‘I’ll be damned if you’re gonna take hard-working Americans’ money and drink it and waste it, instead of helping those brave men and women who gave you the freedom to walk the face of this earth.’
So far over 40 former W.W.P employees have come forward to share their experiences with CBS News. They report that the charity’s spending was recklessly excessive and wasteful. There may even be more of a criminal element to the W.W.P’s corruption. At least two former employees were greatly concerned about retaliation and asked CBS not to show their faces.
“It was extremely extravagant. Dinners and alcohol and and, just total excess,” one said. “I mean, it’s what the military calls fraud waste and abuse.”
Former employees told CBS that the out of control spending began when Nardizzi became the new CEO in 2009. They gave an example of a “meeting” at a luxury Colorado Springs resort as a common business practice by the disgraced former CEO. According to one former employee:
“He rappelled down the side of a building. He’s come in on a Segway. He’s come in on a horse.”
Many donors felt betrayed and expressed their outrage upon learning of the organization’s reckless disregard of financial discipline and basic decency. Fred and Diane Kane raised $325,000 for W.W.P by organizing golf tournaments. They were not happy to learn that maybe only 60 percent of the proceeds from their tournament actually went to wounded veterans.
“I feel like I am representing all these people who have donated over the years, all these seniors over 65 sending $19 month, all these people on fixed incomes,” Fred said. “If no one is going to talk about this right now and it has to be me, then it has to be me.”
According to its sources, CBS reports that the W.W.P board has received the initial results of a financial audit. And they are reviewing new candidates comprised of senior military officers to replace Nardizzi and Giordano.
Nardizzi once justified his lavish spending by saying:
‘If your only fixation is spending the most on programs, that’s feeling good, but not necessarily doing good.’
Here’s the CBS report via YouTube.
Here’s a full statement from the Wounded Warrior Project released on Thursday night.