Clark County, IN – Four Indiana citizens scammed over $150,000 from generous donors who believed they were helping military veterans, investigators said.
“I’m a sovereign citizen, motherf**ker,” 44-year-old James Linville said in a voicemail message to a Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) detective during the investigation, according to CNN.
“Your f**king state laws don’t apply to me in any way. I will make a mockery of your f**king court. And I’ll destroy the sheriff’s department.”
While operating under the guises of the Wounded Warrior Fund and the Wounded Warrior Foundation, the group led donors to believe they were contributing to the Wounded Warrior Project – which is an actual nonprofit organization which works to provide aid to injured, wounded, and sick veterans, CNN reported.
Linville, along with Thomas Johnson, 42, Amy Bennett, 40, and Joanie Watson, 38, have been federally indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and mail fraud, the Courier Journal reported.
With the exception of Watson, the suspects also face numerous counts of wire fraud, prosecutor Kyle Sawa said.
U.S. Secret Service and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) investigated the suspects and their organizations for three years prior to making any arrests, CNN reported.
According to court documents, Linville incorporated the Wounded Warrior Fund in 2011. He then incorporated the Wounded Warrior Foundation in 2014. The groups touted themselves as nonprofit organizations that were assisting veterans in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
The alleged scammers collected over $150,000 from more than 1,000 victims over a period of six years – and that was only the sum of the donations investigators were able to trace.
Despite the group’s assurances that 100 percent of their donations would be used to aid America’s heroes, no veteran ever received a single penny, prosecutors said.
Linville used an alias of Sergeant Bob Davis while soliciting donations, while Johnson used the name of Paul Bradley. They falsely presented themselves as former military servicemen.
Bennet and Watson would then collect the checks, cash, gift cards, and in-kind donations from the well-intentioned donors, which the group used to gamble, buy drugs, and make personal purchases.
They also targeted businesses, and requested that services, meals, and hotel rooms be “comped” to assist veterans.
“The free hotel rooms were often used for members of the conspiracy and others to engage in drug activity,” a law enforcement source told CNN.
The scammers even went so far as to provide receipts to donors for tax deduction purposes.
Investigators found six bank accounts they determined had been used by Linville; however, they were empty by the time authorities got to them.
The Wounded Warrior Project said that they were grateful that the scammers had been apprehended, but said that their actions have had a negative effect on citizens’ willingness to give to the cause.
“Fraudulent groups like the Wounded Warrior Fund and Foundation damage the public’s trust in the good work of legitimate charities committed to fulfilling their missions,” Wounded Warrior Project spokeswoman Ayla Tezel told CNN. “WWP is committed to ensuring donor intentions are honored, and we take this responsibility seriously.”
Altogether, the group faces a total of 227 criminal counts, CNN reported.
They each face up to 20 years in prison.