My foray into the politics of North Carolina's 10th State House District started out innocently enough. I had planned to do an interview with Van Braxton, the Democrat running for the seat as part of our Citizen Journalism project here on BlueNC. It has turned into a tour of a darker side of politics. Much of the darkness can be attributed to one man, Ted Sampley, who operates a 501c3 that is closely linked to political organizations, he is years behind on filing tax returns for this organization and he seems to have some creative ideas for financing projects linked to the non-profit.
First let's start with a little history of Ted Sampley so you can understand more about just how he works. Sampley himself provides some information on his different web sites, Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry, The Last Firebase Archives, and U.S. Veteran Dispatch. Two of the best non-Sampley sites that provide information are IndependentsforKerry.com and MIAfacts.org.
Follow me over the fold...
According to Susan Katz Keating in her book, Prisoners of Hope: Exploiting the POW-MIA Myth in America, Sampley appears to have no problem violating copyright laws or rules of common decency. Ms. Keating's notes claim that much of her information came through interviews with Sampley. This is an extensive quote, but well worth the read.
He(Sampley) displayed a similar attitude toward a fight he instigated against Jan Scruggs of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Scruggs is the man who came up with the idea to erect the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington; he is now president of the fund that administers the memorial, a wall containing the names of service members killed in Vietnam. The wall has an accompanying statue, titled The Three Servicemen.
The trouble between Sampley and Scruggs began when Sampley acquired a public demonstration permit from the National Park Service that allowed vigils and other gatherings on federal land. Sampley set up what he said was a POW vigil booth along the walkway leading to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. .......... Sampley stocked his vigil booth with POW paraphernalia, such as bumper stickers, badges, and flags, plus pamphlets, copies of his newspaper, and a bevy of T-shirts and other souvenirs bearing the likeness of The Three Servicemen.
Scruggs was offended that Sampley would turn the memorial into a self-serving commercial opportunity. Scruggs was even more disturbed that Sampley would market images of The Three Servicemen. The copyright to the statue is owned jointly by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the sculptor, Frederick Hart. All income deriving from the statue's likeness belongs to the fund and the sculptor. The fund uses its portion of profits to help maintain the memorial. Hart donates his share to a nonprofit group that provides name rubbings and other services to Vietnam veterans and their families.
Hart and Scruggs were unsuccessful in getting Sampley to accept a licensing arrangement, so they followed through with litigation. Sampley responded by using the U.S. Veteran News and Report to paint them as greedy men who were "profiteering off the pain of the American people." The court ultimately sided with hart and Scruggs.
Documents filed with the court ...........showed that he(Sampley) had created a self-contained financial network that revolved around POWs and MIAs. One of Sampley's companies, Red Hawk, manufactured the POW T-shirts and sold them to his nonprofit Homecoming II, which in turn sold them at the vigil booth. Although Sampley could say he was destitute, with only one personal bank account containing $ 1 00, the organizations were quite healthy. His reported earnings from the cash-only T-shirt concession amounted to nearly $2 million over three years.
Despite the constant influx of money, Sampley did not pay the people who worked at the vigil booth. They were considered volunteers. Sampley also used them to compile data for his POW/ MIA biography project and to fold copies of U.S. Veteran News and Report.
Despite its similarities to a nineteenth-century workhouse, the Homecoming II facility did not come under scrutiny in the course of the Hart/Scruggs lawsuit. The judge did not look into the financial dealings of the house, nor did he examine its relationship to Sampley's Red Hawk corporation. He merely looked at the concession stand sales figures and ordered Sampley to pay royalties in the amount Of $359,442.92.
It was only a symbolic victory for Hart and Scruggs. Sampley said he wasn't going to pay and successfully resisted all attempts to collect on the judgment.
I asked Sampley how he had managed to avoid doing what the court had ordered. "I immediately put Red Hawk out of business," he said. "I sold everything they owned, and paid bills. I closed down Homecoming II. I heard that Scruggs was planning to levy the vigil site, so I gave it away. I put everything into another nonprofit group."
When sheriffs arrived to foreclose on Sampley, there was nothing to seize.
Sampley does give his own version of the events and clarifies some of the finances in his bio on U.S. Veteran's Dispatch:
From 1989 to 1991, the nonprofit Homecoming II group generated in donations and gross sales of POW/MA (sic) t-shirts, bracelets, bumper stickers, pins and etc., a total of $802,512.00.
Red Hawk Inc., for the same three years, generated $1,047,171.00 in gross sales from building contracts and the wholesale of a variety of screen printed garments including the POW/MIA t-shirts sold to Homecoming II.
So, Sampley dissolved the non-profit and put the proceeds into another non-profit according to this passage. My question is, what happened to the assets from the for-profit Red Hawk, Inc? Did Sampley hide that money from the court by pumping it into a non-profit?
Sampley gives us this accounting of events:
With the judgement (sic) in hand, Scruggs quickly moved to foreclose on Homecoming II and me, its non-paid chairman. Homecoming II, which could hardly afford attorney fees, was forced to dissolve. Red Hawk also had no money and had to be liquidated. Both organizations were dissolved before Scruggs attorneys could get to them.
Not to be deterred by such trivialities as bankrupt organizations, the spiteful Scruggs hired lawyers in my hometown, Kinston, North Carolina. They placed judgements on my personal property and the Sheriff set a date to auction off anything that I owned.
On the day set for the auction, a group of my veteran friends showed up on the court house steps to protest the foreclosure.
Although the obstinate Scruggs had backed away from a public foreclosure and sale, he refused to have removed the $359,000 judgement that was against me personally. The judgement (sic) has haunted me for years and has effectively destroyed my credit and anything that I own or sell can, at anytime, be claimed by Scruggs' Memorial Fund
In the above quote Sampley claims he was an unpaid chairman, however, it's difficult to feel too much sympathy for a man who ran a non-profit that kept his for-profit business booming. He was paid by Red Hawk, which was paid by Homecoming II. He also claims that Scruggs was spiteful and came after a bankrupt organization. What Sampley doesn't tell you is what he told Susan Katz Keating for her book - that he intentionally bankrupted the organization to prevent Scruggs from getting any of the money awarded him by the court.
Through the years Sampley has had various ventures, but the one constant has been his highly political news sheets and online U.S. Veteran Dispatch. In 2004 Sampley decided to take on John McCain using the online Dispatch. During the primary season Sampley painted McCain as the Manchurian candidate. Sampley spent some time in jail after a scuffle with one of McCain's staffers, however after George W. Bush won the primary, Sampley turned his attention to John Kerry launching Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry and Impeach Hanoi John.
Numerous stories can be picked up by a Google search of nasty incidents between McCain and Sampley and Kerry and Sampley during 2004. McCain and Kerry are public figures and are open to more scrutiny and abuse than a private citizen. While much of what Ted Sampley says on his site is protected under the First Amendment, to some Sampley's attacks clearly cross the line of malicious intent.
When looking at Sampley's sites and trying to learn more about his non-profit charitable organization, The Last Firebase Archives Project, some curious details caught my eye and they deserve further inspection. The Last Firebase is a 501c3 non-profit. There are clear rules against 501c3 organizations participating in any political activity. However after a quick tour around all of Sampley's linked web sites it is clear that the non-profit site is linked to the political U.S. Veteran dispatch and the other highly political sites.
The regulations for non-profits are fairly simple and clear. You can find the information at the IRS, some state offices or online services like MyCorporation.com. Basically you follow these simple rules:
-Pursuit of the following corporate purposes only: Charitable, educational, religious, literary, or scientific purposes.
-No distribution of financial gains to directors, officers or members.
-Corporate assets may only be distributed to another tax exempt organization upon dissolution of the nonprofit corporation.
-Participation in political campaigns for or against persons running for public office is prohibited.
-Substantial engagement in legislative political activities is forbidden.
So, do Ted Sampley's activities in the name of The Last Firebase abide by these simple rules?
With limited financial data available it is difficult to tell whether non-profit funds pay for the hosting of the US Veteran's Dispatch site or any of the other Sampley sites. Without access to personal tax returns or personal financial data it is difficult to know how Mr. Sampley gets his money or how he funds his political activity.
The linking of the sites raises some suspicions. The Last Firebase Archives has several active links with one being to the online store and one going directly to U.S. Veteran Dispatch. USVD has active links to all of Sampley's other political sites attacking Kerry, McCain and links to political articles written by Sampley. USVD also links directly to the online store. The online store sells MIA-POW gear as well as merchandise that is listed as anti-Kerry and Hillary Clinton gear. Not only do the sites link to one another, but the store that funds the non-profit is selling politically oriented merchandise.
One of the things that makes researching Sampley's dealings difficult is that he is almost 3 years behind on filing his 990s, the tax returns for charitable organizations. His 2003 returns were filed in February of 2006.(PDF) His 2001 and 2002 returns were both filed in the latter half of 2004.
Listed on the 2003 returns are three qualifying activities meant to justify 501c3 non-profit status.
- Memorial Vigil Project - Washington, DC - To promote awareness of POW-MIA Information & Veterans Issues to tourists and veterans visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC
- Public Awareness - To collect & distribute historical documents as pertaining to all of American wars and create an archives documenting American military history
- Civic Action program - The building of a 158' reproduction of civil war ironclad ship that will serve as an educational tool and a tourist attraction for the local community
The third item listed - the building of the ironclad - was added to the tax filings in December 2004 when Sampley filed his 2002 returns. The 2003 returns show almost $65,000 was spent on the project with a little over $10,000 having been spent on the project the year before. Without up-to-date filings, it's difficult to know how Sampley is actually funding this project.
Another puzzling piece for me - and I'm not a lawyer or a tax expert - is the request for contributions to the project that appears to have nothing to do with the non-profit organization it is linked to. The Neuse II is listed as a project of The Last Firebase Archives. However Sampley requests that checks be made payable to the Kinston Ironclad Shipwright Company. This company is not listed as a charitable organization with the state of North Carolina or the IRS. It is also not listed as an incorporated business in the state of North Carolina. The only other alternative, I believe, is that Kinston Ironclad is an assumed business name that Sampley uses for a sole proprietor business. I'm not sure of the legality of accepting money in the name of one company that is meant to fund a project that is part of a non-profit with a completely different name.
I guess that detail will be something for the Secretary of State, the State Attorney General and the IRS.
Update: Contrary to my previous update, I did not make an error above. The Registrar of Deeds in Lenoir County does not have the business name, Kinston Ironclad Shipwright Company, registered as a dba. This means that this is not a registered sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or a registered charity with the IRS or the state of North Carolina. Apparently, it is simply a fictitious name that has been put out there for the collection of monies. I obviously have no way of knowing whether the money - if any has been collected - has been used for the purpose intended, but it does appear that there is no business entity or charity under which this income would be reported to the state or federal government.