The Wounded Warrior Project, the charity for wounded veterans, has been placed on Charity Navigator’s watch list over accusations of using donor money toward excessive spending on conferences and parties instead of on recovery programs, according to CBS News.
According to the charity’s tax forms, obtained by CBS News, spending on conferences and meetings increased from $1.7 million in 2010, to $26 million in 2014, which is the same amount the group spends on combat stress recovery.
Charity Navigator is a watchdog organization that evaluates charities in the U.S.
Army Staff Sergeant Erick Millette, who returned from Iraq in 2006 with a bronze star and a purple heart, told CBS News he admired the charity’s work and took a job with the group in 2014 but quit after two years.
"Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn't see is how they spend their money," he told CBS News.
Millette said he witnessed lavish spending on staff, with big “catered” parties.
Two former of employees, who were so fearful of retaliation they asked that CBS News not show their faces on camera, said spending has skyrocketed since Steven Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009, pointing to the 2014 annual meeting at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs.
"He rappelled down the side of a building at one of the all hands events. He's come in on a Segway, he's come in on a horse,” one employee told CBS News.
About 500 staff members attended the four-day conference in Colorado, which CBS News reported cost about $3 million.
"Going to a nice fancy restaurant is not team building. Staying at a lavish hotel at the beach here in Jacksonville, and requiring staff that lives in the area to stay at the hotel is not team building," he told CBS News.
Marc Owens, a former director of the IRS’ tax exempt organizations, was asked to review the charity’s tax documents by CBS News. He told CBS he “couldn’t tell the number of people that were assisted” through the organization.
Wounded Warriors Project has been questioned over how it spends more than $800 million it has raised over the last four years, but has strongly rejected the claims of the CBS report.
The charity’s CEO has yet to comment on the report.