Allegations Plague Peace Group That Sponsors War Protests in Crawford, Texas

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With allegations of money mismanagement, threats of court action and some members leaving, a group that has sponsored war protests in President Bush's adopted hometown has been anything but peaceful.

The Crawford Peace House recently lost its corporate charter with the state, and a former member who now has rights to the name is threatening legal action because the group continues operating.

Sara L. Oliver and some others are calling for a state investigation as to why only $14,700 is now in its bank account, saying tens of thousands donated during Cindy Sheehan's 2005 war protest are unaccounted for.

"There are people who have said, `Don't say anything because you'll hurt the peace movement,"' Oliver said. "But if the peace movement isn't pure and transparent and holy as it can be at its heart, then it's just like George Bush: lying, thieving, conniving, backstabbing bastards."

John Wolf, who co-founded the Crawford Peace House in 2003 in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom white-clapboard house just across the railroad tracks from downtown, denied allegations of wrongdoing. He said the claims were by only a few people and would not hurt the work of the Crawford Peace House, which is planning a fourth anniversary celebration Sunday.

He said the Peace House has an accountant and has kept diligent records, which soon will be posted in its Web site. He said most of the $285,000 raised in 2005 was spent on food, van and bus rentals, gas and a large tent for the rallies at several events.

"All of this money was given to us to take care of people who came here, and that's what we did," Wolf said Friday. "If somebody has fantasies, I can't affect that."

The Crawford Peace House bank account had only $3 in early August 2005, but Sheehan's monthlong vigil in ditches off the road leading to Bush's ranch brought thousands of people and donations from across the country. Because the rural campsite was small, most protesters spent much of their time at the Peace House, which also became headquarters for Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq in 2004.

Wolf said he plans to turn in the franchise tax report next week — nearly a year late — to the Texas Comptroller's Office to regain the Peace House's corporate charter. The report was not filed sooner because the house's volunteer director was overwhelmed with other tasks and was confused about whether the paperwork had to be filed if no taxes were owed, he said.

Losing a corporate charter means the board members themselves are liable for any debts the entity might owe, the comptroller's office said.

Wolf said the Texas Secretary of State's Office made a mistake last month in allowing Oliver to file documents forming a nonprofit corporation called the Crawford Peace House.

Wolf said the Crawford Peace House that he co-founded still exists as an unincorporated entity, as well as a religious group, so Oliver is violating state statutes that prevent an organization from having the same or similar name as an existing one.

The Secretary of State's Office was closed Friday for the Easter holiday and no one could be reached for comment.

Wolf said the Peace House also was applying to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Oliver, who said she left the group in 2005 after encountering hostility when she tried to help secure grants for it, said she doesn't want to form a counter group. But she said she would allow some current members to use the name, as long as the house director and leaders account for the money and resign.

Sandra Row, another former member, said up to 75 people have left the peace group over concerns about financial issues or hurt feelings. She said in the summer of 2005, she saw buckets of cash donations in the Peace House — some of which went to pay veterinarian bills for the cat living there. But some demonstrators who bought tents, lanterns and other supplies never got reimbursed, she said.

"You'll never know how much money there is because the cash is gone," Row said.

Wolf said he was not there every day but that the Peace House had receipts for all expenses.

Sheehan, whose name is listed on the 2005 franchise tax report as a Crawford Peace House board member, said Friday that she has never been consulted about its financial matters and knew nothing about the current situation.

Sheehan said the matter would not hurt the peace movement or the weekend's activities coinciding with Bush's weekend ranch visit.

About 50 protesters went to Sheehan's original campsite Friday afternoon and then marched about a mile down the winding, two-lane road to demonstrate in a ditch across from the roadblock set up when Bush is at his ranch.

"We do this to save other people's children, so they won't have to go through what we did," Sheehan said.