The Final Article: What a Tangled Web We Weave

Susan Stephens speaking at the Savannah 2011 Memorial Day Ceremony (Photo Courtesy of SavannahNow.com)

As we have been highlighting over the past week or so, Susie/Susan Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey, a newly elected National League of Families (NLF) Board Member has two serious issues pending over her illegal status as a family member.  First, Ann Mills-Griffiths has knowingly allowed Susie to remain in a voting-right status as well as illegally run and subsequently hold a seat on the Board of the NLF.  AMG has made multiple arguments as to why Susie should remain in her new Board position as well as her illegal status as a family member- all of which are blatantly against NLF By-Laws.

Secondly, as we have documented in recent posts, Susie has also been portraying herself as a blood family member, the biological sister of US Army Special Forces SSG Stephen J. Geist.  Susie, in her first marriage, was married to SSG Geist’s brother, a marriage which dissolved sometime in the early 1990’s.  Susie has since remarried and divorced two more times and is presently married to husband No. 4, Allen Harvey.   Also as part of this imposture, Susie has also given the impression that she is much older than she truly is to add to the embellishment of her story as an MIA sister.

According to background checks and vital records, Susie was born in November 1959, making her approximately 51-year-old at the time of this posting.   As stated in previous articles, Susie would have been 8 years and 10 months old when SSG Geist went missing.  Keeping all of these vital statistics in mind, we would like to discuss, in detail, an article that appeared in The Frontline, the newspaper for Fort Stewart Army Post, located in Georgia, Susie’s present home state.

The article, dated September 4, 2008, tells Susie’s truly incredible story as the sister of one of the many men who never made it home.  You can read the article, in its entirety; Frontline 4 Sept 2008 News on MIA.   It starts out with a heart-wrenching story of a big brother who said good-bye to his then approximately 7 year-old sister as he left for Vietnam, “Sis, before I leave, I want you to know, if something happens to me, you cry for yourself.  Don’t cry for me because I am doing something I believe in and love.”

Based on her November 1959 date of birth, Susie was merely a child when SSG Geist left for Vietnam.  At that time she was certainly not yet his sister-in-law and obviously, not his biological sister.  In this article, Susie would like to give the readers the impression that she was in college at the time, which we know she could not have been; she was in elementary school.   Given her age, even if Stephen Geist had been a neighbor or family friend at the time, it is very hard to believe that a soldier of the magnitude of Special Forces would even think of saying something like that to a child.

Susie goes on to tell the reporter about the contents of the letters that Stephen sent home while in Vietnam.  It is quite possible that she had access to these letters at some point while she was married to Stephen’s brother. Yet, it is important to note that these were not letters sent to her but to Stephen’s biological family.

Next Susie tells of how the news arrived to “her parents” that Stephen never returned from his mission on September 26, 1967.  “My parents requested being told any bad news in person instead of receiving a letter or a phone call.  My mom saw the Army car come up with the chaplain and she knew instantly.”   As many of you know, at that time notices came via telegram and a few days later a local recruiter would come by the house to give the primary next of kin the details and what was being done to find the missing man.  There were no lists of choices that a family could pick from as to how they wanted to be notified.   Susie apparently chose to take advantage of the emotional imagery of men in uniform arriving at a family’s home.

Susie claims that in September of 1967 she was away from home in Pennsylvania attending college. (Remember, she would have only been 8 years-old at the time).  She spoke of the antiwar protests that were breaking out all over college campuses and details how an Army chaplain came to her dorm to tell her that her brother was missing.   Again, Susie shows her lack of knowledge of how a notification was handled in 1967.  If she had been Stephen’s sister, she would have never received the news from an Army chaplain, she was not the next-of-kin and it would have been the NOKs responsibility to notify the rest of the family of the situation.

Next Susie tells the reporter, “From then on I couldn’t go anywhere on campus without being singled out.”  Which is odd considering the fact that family members were routinely told to go on with life as usual and to share this information with no one because it could put their loved-one’s life in danger.  So, the idea that it was general knowledge on any college campus is again highly unlikely.   She tells of having been spit on and told to go back to Vietnam, take her parents with her and die because they were all baby killers.   Considering the fact that Susie wasn’t even in college at that time, this is one incredibly stereotypical tale to garner sympathy and admiration from the readers as well as the reporter.

It is worth mentioning again that this entire article is complete and utter fabrication.  Susie was not at college in 1967, she was a school girl just learning to read and write.  She never had a chaplain come to her dorm, she never experienced anti-war protesters in college nor was she ever singled out for being part of a POW/MIA family.  In all probability, at the age of 8, the name Geist meant nothing to her yet.  The part of her story that hit us here at The POW Warrior the hardest was the hoax of being spit on and told to go to Vietnam with her family and die with all the other baby killers. Feigning sentiments and events that others have truly experienced to pull at the heart-strings is, in a word, revolting.

While there are other aspects of this article that we would normally address; there is much more to discuss before closing the chapter on Susie for now.  Yet, most likely the ultimate slap in the face is Susie’s statement that she wants closure for her ‘brother’ by going on to say, “even if it is a jar of dirt.”  A jar of dirt?  Who among the families, from any war, would console themselves with simply dirt?  Who among us would accept DoD’s handling of a case in this manner?

Susie chatting with Sgt. Major Kenneth Preston, US Army at the 2009 Annual Meetings (Photo Courtesy of http://www.army.mil)

Now that we have shown the true Susie/Susan Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey the question remains, why does Ann Mills-Griffiths value this individual so much?  We may have an answer to that question.  It has been interesting to us as we researched Susie’s story that she regularly makes reference to being the president of the Georgia Committee for POW/MIA, Inc.  This non-profit organization was started in 1986 by Joanne Shirley and JoAnn Shaw.  The controversial website, www.miafacts.org, was the only place where we could find anything substantive on this non-profit.  This site belongs to retired US Army Col.  Joe Schlatter, a former senior DIA POW/MIA analyst and past Deputy Director of DPMO.  Schlatter adamantly denies the mindset that anyone was ever left behind after the Vietnam War.

Its main objective is the return of, or accounting for, missing servicemen. It furthers its goal through public awareness activities and relies completely on volunteers to produce a newsletter, public addresses, slide presentations, ceremonies, and to meet with elected officials about the POW/MIA issue. Georgia Committee officers have made numerous appearances on television and radio, and have traveled extensively, at their own expense, to appear on behalf of the POW/MIA issue. In addition, the Georgia Committee maintains close ties with the National League of Families, and disseminates League information to its membership.Funding for the Georgia Committee comes from membership dues, from the sale of POW/MIA memorabilia (POW bracelets, T-shirts, flags, etc.) and donations. Its average annual budget is approximately $8,000.

This is where things caught our attention.  The Georgia Committee for POW/MIA, Inc. has no website, no contact information anywhere online, not even an email address or phone number.  Based on the description given above, one would think that this non-profit would have more to share with the public.   In fact, even with all of the mention of this organization in Susie’s 30+ online articles and references; in 2010 this organization reported to the IRS that it had zero dollars in revenue and zero dollars in expenses.   These dollar amounts are supported both here, here and here on website that report on the IRS statements of non-profits.  Additionally, the address that is submitted to the IRS is simply a PO Box – most likely at a UPS Store or something of that nature.  There is no information on line anywhere  directing interested parties where to send donations or even contact the organization’s officials.

Therefore, how does a non-profit survive with no revenue, no expenditures and no assets?  Why is it that whenever Susie posted anything anywhere she listed both her position with the Georgia Committee for POW/MIA, Inc. as well as with the National League of Families?  Many would consider this somewhat of a conflict of interest.   Yet here is where it gets curious.  Instead,the contact information for the NLF is  given along with the links to the NLF website.   Keeping in mind our “Follow The Money” post a few weeks back; Is it possible that Susie is simply re-directing potential funds for her Georgia Committee right back to the NLF?

Imagine the innocent scenario at one of the many public events that Susie attends where a Vietnam Vet asks how he can help the Georgia Committee. Susie directs him to the NLF instead stating that her organization gives the majority of their monies to the NLF and that it would simplify things if he made a direct donation to the League.   Does Susie put up a table for the Georgia Committee at these events with a donation jar and simply forwards that money on to AMG?  The possibilities are endless.

In closing, we would hope that NLF members are insisting that the By-Laws be followed based on their true meaning, that Susie Stephens-Harvey and her present husband Allen be put in their rightful place as associate members and that the motions from the 2011 Annual Meetings which the Harveys either initiated or seconded be stricken from the record.   Replacing Susie on the Board is a must as well, whether a new election is held or by sliding the last candidate into Susie’s slot – that is something the entire Board can decide.

We would also hope that the US Army Casualty Office is notified of Susie’s true status in relation to SSG Geist.   If there is indeed a Power of Attorney or a  Letter of Authorization (allowing her to represent SSG Geist’s family at meeting), we would hope that the Primary Next of Kin of SSG Geist be made aware of Susie’s charade and makes the necessary adjustments to any agreement that they may have with Susie.

We would also like to see the Board of the NLF give Ann Mills-Griffiths a stern caution with regard to her underhanded behavior keeping in mind that the organization’s reputation and public perception is paramount with regard to the NLF’s true mission. They also should remind her that the organization does not belong to her to use as her personal playground.  Instead, it belongs to the membership who has allowed her the privilege of serving them for over 30 years.  If the League were to lose their non-profit status over AMG’s refusal to address the Susie situation; the organization can be re-instated, yet without Ann having any role, either official or unofficial.

For now, we would like to put the Susie/Susan Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey story to rest.  We believe that we have shown her to be someone who has misused and abused the POW/MIA Issue for personal gratification and we sincerely hope that all of the NLF Board Members see fit to do the right thing.

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Our next series of articles will appear in a few days.  In the meantime you can ask yourselves this question …

What do AMG, Richard Childress, Dr. Larry Ward, Bill Bell and Colin Powell have in common?  We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it!

Part III: What a Tangled Web We Weave – The Charade

Photo Source: Carl Elmore, Savannah Morning News
Photo Source: Carl Elmore, Savannah Morning News

The emotional toll of being a POW/MIA Family Member can only be surpassed by being a POW/MIA.  We have all had our sleepless nights trying to piece together what might have happened to him or where his remains might be or, God forbid, what camp he may still be held in.   We look at the aging faces of our parents and even our siblings and other relatives who all carry the loss in the corner of their eyes and at every major family event, the topic ultimately always turns to him and how the event seems a bit empty without him there.

There is almost the incredible burden that those of us who are the PNOK carry with us – that unshakable responsibility that leaves us with that sometimes empty feeling  that everyone is depending on you to get the job done.   We daydream of the day that the flag-draped casket slowly slides down the luggage belt of that airplane in our hometown – the day that our missing warrior finally comes home.

Few people become more infuriated than we do when we hear about someone pretending to be a former POW, a Special Forces Soldier or a decorated warrior in a feeble attempt to garner sympathy, recognition and attention from those who honor their purported heroism and dedication to country.     They humbly accept these accolades and year after year of playing this charade, it becomes second nature.  They take credit for actions that men far greater than they would simply shy away from.  They tell the lies so often that they become their own version of the truth.  Yet, they are still lies, what we also call Stolen Valor.

What we are dealing with now in this situation with Susie Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey is Stolen Valor with a POW/MIA Family twist.  The most anguishing part of what we are about to lay out for you is that tomorrow’s article, dedicated to just one of these many online references we found, will almost make your blood boil.

Through many hour of Google searching Susie Harvey and the many variations to her name over the years, we were able to show Susie’s progression though the same stages that these military impostors who often have the Stolen Valor act used against them.  In fact, there is a website out there dedicated to publicly exposing these men who dare take credit where credit is certainly not due; www.pownetwork.org.

We found over 20 links from 1999 to 2011 showing everything from message board posts to interviews done with area reporters where Susie transitions from being the (ex)sister-in-law of US Army SSG Stephen J. Geist to being a blood relative; his sister.   What is to follow is a listing, in chronological order, of the various references to Susie over the years using a multitude of variation of the five different last names she has legally held over the years.  Interestingly enough, only her maiden name of Lowenthal appears in background check files.  We have seen her use L as her middle initial at times but while working the POW/MIA Issue, she never, to our knowledge, made use of that last name.

  • In this November 1999 post on a Vietnam memorial website:  here, Susie, referring to herself as, Susie Ragan, a sister-in-law, states, ” …his parents have passed away, and now, only his sister, brother and I continue to search for this fallen hero.”
  • In this January 2001 post on another memorial website: here, Susie again refers to herself as, Susie S. Ragan,  SSG Geist’s sister-in-law.
  • In this November 2003 post on a DAV message board: here, Susie refers to herself as Susie Geist Ragan with no mention of a relation to SSG Geist.
  • In this April 2005 post on a Veterans’ message board: here, Susie refers to herself as Susie Stephens (former Ragan) .
  • In this September 2005 these meeting minutes for the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, where she accepts a proclamation from them for POW/MIA Recognition Day, she gives a brief speech where she also introduces Allen Harvey as part of a group of local Vietnam Veterans: here, Susie refers to herself as Susie Stephens and clearly states that she is an MIA Family Member, see pages 8-10.  “My name is Susie Stephens and I stand before you as – and represent what every family in the military’s worst nightmare.  I am an MIA family from Vietnam.  I became an MIA family in 1967 …”  (Reminder: in 1967 when SSG Geist went missing, Susie was an 8-year-old girl  and still, obviously, not married to SSG Geist’s brother)
  • In this November 2005 email message to the POW Network.org, Susie gives details to add to SSG Geist’s profile: here.  Here she clearly refers to herself as a family member, Susie Geist Ragan.   At the bottom of the page you will see a link to a PowerPoint slide show that a USMC Vietnam Vet made for Susie.  It is entitled, “A Sister’s Love” and makes several references to Susie as Stephen’s sister and her love, admiration and dedication to finding her big brother.
  • In this May 2007 news article from the drag racing community: here, Susie begins to use the name Susie Stephens-Harveyand is picture and reported as, “Allan and Susie-Stephens- Harvey, representing POW/MIA Families and Special Forces SSG Stephen Geist …”
  • In this September 2007 newspaper article in the Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Georgia): here.  To bring attention to POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies in the Savannah are, Susie and Allen are interviewed.  It is obvious that Susie Stephens-Harvey has reached the point of romanticizing being a POW/MIA Family Member to garner sympathy and attention.  The reporter states how Stephen Geist is forever young in his sisters eyes, how she carried a portrait of her brother to the ceremony and the empty feeling she has inside when she thinks about her brother.  She states that having her brother’s remains returned home would bring closure and is quoted as saying, “I would probably sleep soundly for the first time in 40 years.”  Some closure apparently came when she had a marker placed at the POW Museum in Andersonville, GA.   “I felt his footprints need to show on this earth, so I put a marker there for him,” she said.  (We have to wonder if SSG Geist’s family authorized this or if Susie did it – illegally.)
  • In this July 4th, 2008 Letter-to-the-Editor: here, Susie Stephens pens an emotional and poignant letter with more romanticizing and the foot note to the letter reads, “This American woman is the sister of a Special Forces Army soldier who went MIS (sic) in 1967.”
  • In this July 2008 Letter-to-the-Editor: here, penned by someone who visited a Moving Wall exhibit had this to say, “Susie Stephens, the president of the POW/MIA Society here in Georgia was on site the whole weekend educating the visitors on those who never came home from SE Asia… at all. Her brother, Stephen J. Geist went missing in 1974. His body has never been recovered. He will certainly never be forgotten.”
  • In this undated webpage for a local jeweler in Savannah: here, Susie apparently had a friend who designs jewelry make a POW/MIA line of jewelry with proceeds going to the NLF. “My good friend here in Savannah, Susie-Stephens-Harvey is the Georgia State Coordinator for the National League of POW/MIA Families and is herself a member of an MIA Family.  Because I have such admiration for the League and believe in their worthy cause,  I always donate a percentage of my proceeds to their organization.”
  • In this September 2008 Letter-to-the-Editor of the Veterans in Recovery website: here,  Susie Geist Stephens (no Harvey, interestingly enough) sent a letter to this organization for POW/MIA Recognition Day and while she doesn’t specifically state that she is a family member or SSG Geist’s sister, it is clear that she is referring to him as a blood relative, stating that she will be honoring him at the memorial ceremony.
  • In this undated archival page on the Savannah Morning News website: here, half way down is a photo of Susie speaking at a POW/MIA event.  During the event she again states that SSG Geist is her brother.   The photo caption reads, “Georgia Committee for POW/MIA, Inc., state president Georgia/Regional 1 coordinator, Susan Stephens, was a special guest speaker at Memorial Day services in Effingham County Monday. Stephens talked of her brother, Stephen J. Geist, a Green Beret who has been missing in action since 1967.”
  • In this January 2009 post on the amvets.com website: here, Susie appears to have submitted some NLF newsletter information to the site, using the name Susie Stephens-Harvey and directing readers to the NLF website.
  • In this October 2009 post on the Vietnam Veterans of America website: here, Susie Stephens is listed as a special advisor to the VVA’s POW/MIA Committee through the NLF.
  • In this undated post on a Special Forces website: here, Susie Stephens-Harvey has given them the PowerPoint presentation, “A Sister’s Love” and readers are asked, “If you knew SSG Geist please contact his sister, Susie Stephens Harvey.”
  • In this December 2010 news article on the US Army website: here, Susie Stephens-Harvey volunteered at this event and was again referenced as being there representing her brother, SSG Geist.
  • In this May 2011 news article from Savannah, Georgia: here, Susan Stephens is highlighted as, “the state president of the Georgia Committee for POW/MIA Inc., and the sister of an MIA Green Beret.”

What is at issue here is that not only is the NLF Board refusing to follow their own By-Laws and their own policy that has been highlighted in past posts here at The POW Warrior, Susie/Susan Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey has been publicly portraying herself as a family member, calling SSG Geist her brother and embellishing his story and her role in his life.   This is no different from when a man exaggerates his military service, wears a uniform with medals that he has not earned or publicly claims feats of heroism that he never truly took part in.

The reason for Susie’s charade might have been noble in the beginning yet she has sought the attention that so many of us shy away from because it isn’t about us, it is about the men.  Yet Susie has become what some have called “a professional POW/MIA Family Member” all the while being an impostor.    There is even a psychological condition that was defined in the late 1970’s called impostor syndrome.

This incredible article from military.com: here, outlines, from a psychological perspective, the mentality of someone who is an impostor, such as those who impersonate Navy SEALs.   Dr. W. Brad Johnson, a former Navy Lt. Commander, senior professor at the US Naval Academy and clinical psychologist, gives three specific reasons for this behavior.   He mentions former military members who make these claims due to some tramatization or PTSD with memory difficulties.  Another is the utilitarian fibber who uses this persona only in limited situations; “In this instance, the deceiver slings on the SEAL story like a cape, hoping to use the elite persona to leverage access to career advancement, social status, or perhaps just the sack.”

The most common is:

“The Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by extreme egotism, arrogance, an unquenchable need for tribute and admiration, and an ongoing wish to be seen as special or unusual.”

Where Susie falls in not our concern.  Our concern is that the members of the NLF Board understand that they do not have a choice.  Susie must be removed from the Board regardless of what AMG wants and regardless of how she feels she can circumvent the illegality of this faux pas.  We would not be surprised to find out that the illegal nature of Susie’s inclusion on the NLF Board ballot was brought to AMG’s attention before the elections and she simply chose to ignore it because the pros out weighted the cons.  We think we know what those pros are and will post them after our final piece on Susie/Susan Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey.

As we told a reader who emailed us, don’t shoot the messenger.   No one twisted Susie’s arm to do this and she never made any attempts to correct these claims.   Those of us who are family members know that the press can often misquote us and misunderstand what we have told them. Yet, in this case, no comments were ever added to news stories to correct the inaccuracies or updating the article through the reporter.

If this doesn’t infuriate you – tomorrow’s article certainly will.  Our final piece in the “What a tangled Wed We Weave” series.

Illegal Family Members: Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave … Part I

Notice just inside the bottom of the ring, “legally ended”

At the center of the National League of Families’ illegal 2011 elections is Mrs. Susie Harvey.    Susie’s first husband, Jeffrey Geist, had a brother who was captured in September of 1967; SSG  Stephen Jonathan Geist, US Army-a strikingly handsome Special Forces soldier.   For some reason, Susie has been allowed to portray herself as a family member even though her status as a legal family member was severed when her divorce to her first husband was finalized prior to 1999.

Yet, Ann Mills-Griffiths and the Board of the NLF refuse to remove Susie from her newly appointed position as an NLF Board Member and no one truly understand why.   Clearly AMG can see the illegality of this situation and understands the ramifications of the Board’s inaction.  From an organizational perspective, there is certainly cause for concern.

Today, Susie sits, illegally, on the Board of Directors of the NLF due to the fact that only family members are allowed voting rights and to sit on the Board.  Based on NLF by-laws only blood relatives and legal family members can have family member status.   Anyone who does not fit into either of these categories is to be classified as an associate member (no voting rights or ability to hold a Board seat).

We must also apologize to our readers.  In past posts, we have made an error with regard to Susie and her marital status.  What was our error?  We stated that Susie’s present husband, Allen Harvey, was her third husband – he is actually her fourth.

Susan Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey was born in Maryland in November, 1959 – she would have been about two months shy of seven years old when SSG Geist entered the Army and  eight years and ten months old at the time SSG Geist was shot down in 1967.  We have spent some very long hours scouring the Internet looking for references to Susie and SSG Geist.   We found several web pages where Susie refers to herself, as SSG Geist’s sister-in-law, even after she had married husband No. 2 (Ragan).  At that point, SSG Geist would have been her ex-brother-in-law, yet, somewhat understandably, leaving off the ‘ex’ is something that we can overlook.

While overlooking the ‘ex’ we cannot over look the legal status change from family member to associate member, as all wives were treated when they remarried in the late 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s.   The by-laws are clear – Susie Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey, just as the wives who remarried lost their status;  Susie lost her legal claim to being a family member when she divorced SSG Geist’s brother, Jeffrey.  Her present husband, Allen Harvey, had no right to even be given family member status, but we will have more on that in a later post.

The crux of this issue is this – every action that Susie and her present husband Allen have made and will make under the guise of “family members” is illegal and, by law, needs to be stricken from the record.   Every Board Meeting in which AMG allows Susie to sit is an illegal meeting and the THREE Resolutions that were passed last month in DC at the annual meetings that involved either Susie or Allen supporting a motion or seconding one  (Resolutions #2, #5 and #6) are also illegal and must be stricken from the record.

A reader brought it to our attention that AMG, during the annual meetings this past July, used the argument of “once a family member, always a family member” when this issue was discussed.  Well, based on the number of POW/MIA wives who contacted us and the clear distinction that Larry Echanis, son of USAF Major Joseph Echanis,  made in his very poignant letter to the NLF Board on August 11, 2011; that argument is not in the by-laws and has no precedent to our knowledge.  Larry’s mother was one of those women who was stripped of her family member status when she remarried.   Read Larry’s letter here: NLOF Letter 08-11-2011 Echanis Letter.

Based on the handling of past family members who lost their legal status and today’s Susie situation; AMG appears to randomly decides who stays a family member and who doesn’t.  What criteria is she using exactly to make these status changes?  Is there a statute in the by-laws that gives her that power to make these vicarious decisions?

Unfortunately, according to information that Susie posted on the internet and in interviews with reporters after 1999, Susie suddenly began to refer to herself as SSG Geist’s sister and calling him her brother.  We have over 20 internet references, some of Susie’s own making and others as newspaper articles, where Susie refers to SSG Geist as her brother and tells some tales of being a POW/MIA ‘sister.’

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In Part II  we will share the specifics of the professional POW/MIA Family Member life that Susie falsely orchestrated for herself over the past 12 years.   There may well be a Part III and possibly a Part IV as we are still attempting to sort this all out.  Some of it will simply leave you shaking your head.

Ann Mills-Griffiths: More Creative Accounting – Annual Report?

If you did not have the opportunity to attend the annual meetings this year, you may have missed out on the rather interesting piece of paper that was handed out with your packet, the “2010 Annual Report.”  We have had some accountant friends, all CPAs, take a look at this and there are several things that jumped out at them as mind-boggling.   First, based on the 990 forms that were discussed in a previous post (you can read that here) and this annual report, it is clear that the NLF is not being as transparent as it should be with regard to the organization’s finances.   We are wondering who put this annual financial report together – AMG? The  new League Treasurer, Mark Stephensen?  The former League Treasurer, Pam Cain? AMG’s Financial Advisor, Karen McManus? The NLF’s Certified Public Accountant, William Batdorff?

Here is what AMG is calling the 2010 Balance Sheet: Click NLF 2010 Balance Sheet 

We have taken the liberty of highlighting a few things in yellow to make them easier to find.

First, listed, under Liabilities, the large amount of $100,576.  Accrued Expenses are expenses that are outstanding – meaning they have been committed to but not yet paid.  One would think that going into a “bit” more details over what that large amount of cash covers would be important to share with the membership, two of the three CPAs we consulted mentioned this as well.

Additionally, they all concurred that no employee salary should be included in this amount (salary is a current liability, not an accrued expense).  So, in the name of fairness; what could be part of this amount?  Possibly, rent for office space (which seems insane with one employee – but that is another topic), down payments on space usage for the annual meeting and rental fees for the storage units – If anyone else would like to offer ideas on what could be under this category to absorb $100,000 (over 50% of our revenue), we’d love to hear from you.

The Statement of Revenue and Expenses section is where it gets very interesting.  Again, all of the CPAs we contacted agreed that this section needs to be broken down into much more detail to provide transparency to the membership. A Statement of Revenue and Expenses should, under Revenue, detail exactly where the money came from by category; donations, fundraising, membership dues, etc.

All of the CPAs again stated that in a Statement of Revenue and Expenses you cannot take volunteer hours and convert them into revenue/contributions, particularly when the volunteer is also a member of your organization.  In fact, the IRS says the same thing, click here.  It cannot be reported as a contribution but can be reported in another section of the form as an accomplishment -two very different things.

Furthermore, taking that $342,988 of volunteer time and then stating that that “money” was turned around and used for Public Awareness is also a no-no.  You need to show real dollars that were spent on Public Awareness, with receipts and etc.  Simply converting all of the non-revenue volunteer hours into Public Awareness and then calling it revenue would seem to be somewhat of a slight of hand.

In 2009 on the 990 tax return it states that some $5,000 was used for Public Awareness and $3,900 in 2010 yet you do not share with the membership what the results of those fundraising expenses were.  The reason this is important is quite simply due to the fact that we need to know if that money invested in fundraising is reaping substantial benefit and if it is not, as an organization, we need to explore better options for fundraising.   When specifics are hidden from the membership, it immediately begs the question why and to what end.

Just under Public Awareness are listed Other Expenses and Meetings/Conferences.  We don’t know about the rest of you, but we sure would like to know what $35,499 bought us.   Was it travel? Mileage? Meals?  Again, the reason for knowing what this money was spent on, considering it is about 18% of our revenue for the year, is to make sure that it is being used in the most effective manner.

There are several other topics on this document that warrant questions; for example, why $1607 is listed twice for conferences/meetings under both Fundraising and then again under Management and General?  It can’t be used twice – that is double dipping.   What were the Other Expenses totaling $6,235 under Management and General?  With only one employee and so much information being kept electronically, we can’t imagine how one person can spend some $500+ a month to run such a small office.

The staggering fact is that, according to these calculations, we are over $72,000 in the red.

Which leaves us with more questions:

1)   Why are we not being more transparent and opening the playing field to allow others in the organization to offer up suggestions, ideas and personal experiences that can improve our standing?

2)   Some of us have non-profit experience,  couldn’t we offer some ideas on how to improve our bottom line?

3)  Why are we not looking into grants?

4)  Reaching out to the active duty military?

5)  Partnering with other POW/MIA organizations?

6)  Making our website more appealing?

As Spiderman/Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said, “With power comes great responsibility” and if those in power have been stricken with Potomac Fever, then it is up to the rest of us to give them the vaccine to cure this disease.   We not only owe it to the family members that came before us, but we most certainly owe it to the men we are fighting for who have no other recourse than to hope and pray that the rest of us do the right thing.

We need to start asking questions and then ask a few more because, in the end, this is about the men.

The National League of Families: More and More Questions

The more we read, the more we research and the more we talk to people – the more questions we have. The helical nature of these questions regarding this organization and its history seem to gradually spiral and becoming larger and larger the deeper we delve.   As we have stated previously, this is about money, power and control of the POW/MIA Issue.   When we talk about control, we mean control at all levels.   When Ann Mills-Griffiths took over the reigns of the NLF as Executive Director (a paid position) from Carol Bates, the image and perception of the NLF took a huge 180 degree turn from its mission.

AMG came on the scene in the POW/MIA Issue in the mid 1970’s leaving her carefree Southern California lifestyle to come to DC as a legislative liaison with the NLF.  Most likely in her early 30’s at the time, which would have been quite young at that time to be pounding on doors on Capitol Hill.  Remember, it was much more of a Good Ol’Boys Club than it even is today.   She was young and ambitious.   Carol Bates, then Executive Director of the NLF, suddenly made an almost inexplicable leap from the NLF to a public relations position with DIA.

For a long time we had been perplex by this sudden jump to DIA, yet, looking at the chronology of the NLF pre-AMG and post-AMG, the landscape becomes much clearer.  It was explained to us that, at the time, one striking difference between AMG and Carol was that Carol was the smarter of the two and AMG was the more ambitious.  Quite possibly, by offering Carol an entry-level position at DIA, this left the door open for AMG to take over the Executive Director post with the NLF.

AMG quickly began to parse away at what we like to call the POW/MIA splinter groups that were popping up all over the country in post-Vietnam America.  As was shown in several of our past posts, AMG wielded the NLF sword to discredit many of these other groups leaving the NLF at the top of the food chain.  Clearly, just by the mere fact that AMG was purportedly representing the POW/MIA families-the general public, veterans’ groups and the like would certainly side with the families whenever a rift came to pass with  non-profit groups that consisted of only concerned citizens.

AMG made every effort to see to it that the NLF was *the* POW/MIA advocacy group.  Once the NLF’s dominance was established, the USG gingerly took advantage of AMG’s ambition and gave her a nice shot of Potomac Fever.   Potomac Fever is, in part, what we are suffering today on a national level – the audacity of those in power in Washington who believe that they know what is best for the rest of us because we are too naive to grasp how our nation really works.  So, out of pity, they hold our innocent little  hands and walk us through the political jungle because, according to them, we are too stupid to survive without them.

We know what you may be thinking, that is a pretty big leap.  Yet, when we put everything into chronological order, it makes sense.  In 1978 AMG became the Executive Director of the NLF, in 1979 she signed the secrecy agreement with DIA – against NLF by-laws and without consulting the NLF Board.  She then, almost methodically went about alienating every POW/MIA group possible.  Nothing was going to go on in the POW/MIA Issue without her personal rubber stamp of approval which included even manipulating others; as was the case of the money laundering scandal, which, ironically lead to the loss of Support Our POW/MIAs’ non-profit status.

Enter Army Lt. Col. Richard Childress of the National Security Council.  It has amazed us, by looking at the series of documents, the level of access and influence that AMG allowed him to have on the NLF; an influence that still exists today.  Taking a look at some of the early documents, specifically one that Richard Childress shared with others within the DoD and State Department (see below).  This document outlines the fact that AMG had been sharing information with the government in violation of NLF by-laws and directives.  As he explained to the recipients of the information, the reason for this betrayal of her employer and fellow POW/MIA Family members was, according to Childress, “..for the best interest of the issue.”   Remember Potomac Fever?

You can see the interesting cover letters by clicking Childress_and_AMG.   That was in 1983, AMG had then dismantled most of the POW/MIA groups and she and Carol were deep in the money laundering with the Support our POW/MIAs (while Carol was employed at DIA).   Meanwhile, AMG was, against NLF directives, recording an NLF Board Meeting and then passing a transcription on to her confidant at the NSC, Richard Childress.  And what did Childress do with this information?  He forwarded it to:

Col. Mark Richards, USAF – a senior official at DIA (retired in 1984)

John Monjo,  then Deputy Assistant Secretary (State Department), East Asia and Pacific Affairs ( later Ambassador to Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan)

Richard Armitage, Assistant Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs

James Kelley, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, East Asia and Pacific Affairs

Col.  Lee J. Elwell, Deputy Director for Strategy and Policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The most interesting discussion point is the fact that Childress wrote “PROTECT” across the top and bottom of the cover letter.  Based on a Google search, this unclassified designation would most likely mean, “Extremely sensitive information, if compromised, could reasonable be expected to cause extremely grave injury outside of national interest.”  This is used to protect the identity of an informant.   It it also worth noting that Childress makes no formal introduction of AMG to these men.  He only refers to her as “Ann” – giving the impression that all of these men know exactly who she is and what she is/was doing at the time. (We have submitted the question of PROTECT and once we have a specific answer we will update this post.)

How would sharing this information with the above individuals be ” …for the best interest of the issue”?  Best for the families … or best for the DoD and the State Department?

If AMG was willing to throw Board members and US Congressmen under the bus, what is to make us believe that what she has orchestrated since these early days hasn’t been for her own narcissistic satisfaction and to indulge her Potomac Fever?

It is abundantly clear that AMG is going to do what AMG wants and the rest of us are to either get on board or get out of her way.   Have NLF members allowed her to control the issue from the inside under the guise of her government-influenced definition of what is best for the issue?

Some Lingering Questions:

1)  Why was the question about Susie Harvey’s eligibility as a Board Member the only question addressed during the Membership Meeting at the annual meeting?

2)  Why did AMG tell Mark Stephensen to “shut it down” while they both knew they had another 30 minutes of Q and A with the membership? (Ann, you need to be more careful, at least one person in the room could read lips.)

3)  Did AMG know that members had questions about her pending book publication?

  • Has AMG consulted with DIA, per her secrecy agreement, over her book?
  • Has AMG legally insulated the NLF from any potential legal action taken against the organization resulting from the content of her book?
  • Who will be the recipient of any royalties that come from the book? AMG personally or the NLF?

4)  Why, once AMG stepped down, was the position of Executive Director done away with?  At whose urging, under what rationale and when was this voted on by the NLF Board?

5)  How does the job description for the newly introduced “National Coordinator” differ from that former position of “Executive Director”?

6)  Why has the sole official email address for the NLF (powmiafam@aol.com), which has been in use for as long as anyone can remember, now considered AMG’s personal email address?  The new National Coordinator has been given her own email address and now, the only email address that has been used by government officials, foreign dignitaries, the press and veterans’ organization, etc. to contact the NLF  still remains in the hands of a former employee.

and …

7)  How are we supposed to interpret the undeniable silence of the Board of Directors regarding the illegal elections?  Could it possibly be a new strand of Potomac Fever?

Follow Up: Duplicity and the Continuing Saga of the Illegal Elections

Today’s post, thanks to a reader, is a follow up to our July 28th post.  Read here: Duplicity, Ann Mills-Griffiths Style.   In that post we detailed the situation of the illegal election that the NLF Board sanctioned in May/June of this year.  As you may recall, when the illegal nature of the elections was brought up at the annual meetings with regard to Susie Harvey being ineligible to run for the Board because, due to her divorce from her first husband, she was no longer a family member.

AMG made a somewhat calculated move by stating that if Susie were no longer considered a family member then the same should be the case for the widow of former NLF Chairman of the Board Earl Hooper, Sr – Mrs. Patricia Hopper.   As we have already covered, the law is very different in the case of divorce over death; according to the law Susie Harvey is no longer a family member while Mrs. Hopper certainly is.

Once the meetings were over Mrs. Hopper emailed the Board with her concerns over the election, etc. now that AMG had drawn her into this debate.  As we shared in the link above, outgoing NLF Board Chairman Mark Stephensen responded to Mrs. Hopper’s legitimate concerns with simply this, “After reading your four page rant, I found it to be irrelevant, baseless and without merit.  Please stop wasting our time.  We have work to do.

While few people would find Mr. Stephensen’s response appropriate or professional, it does beg the question as to what the NLF Board plans to do about these clearly illegal elections?  It is certainly well beyond the point of playing ostrich and burying their collective head in the sand in the hopes that it will all blow over.  Ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away because, as was outlined in our last post,  the NLF could easily lose their non-profit status and League Board members could, individually, be held responsible for an excise tax levied against the NLF at that point.

Thankfully, on 7/29 Mrs. Hopper responded to Mr. Stephensen’s attempt at misdirection;

Mark,
 
You state my position outlined in my 26 July 2011 letter to the Board, State and Regional Coordinators is “irrelevant, baseless and without merit;” however, you provide no evidence to support your statement. Document in writing where I’m wrong. Show me when, where, how and why Suzie and her most recent husband have the legal right to hold family membership in the National League of Families.
 
I expect one of your arguments will be the old adage “once a family member always a family member.” Before you present that concept, be aware in the mid to late 1980s and into the 1990s some POW/MIA wives chose to remarry. In cases I am familiar with, as soon as Ann learned of their new marital status, she immediately informed each one they were no longer eligible to be family members. She added that if they wished to stay League members, they could do so only as an associate member. I find it interesting that Ann clearly knew and understood the definition of a “legal family member” in the 1980s and 1990s while today she – and you – don’t.
 
You’re right. The Board has very important business to pay close attention to: that being the removal of 2 people – Suzie and Allen Harvey – who are not eligible to be legal family members of the League.
 
Keep in mind a new election is required because of the manner in which the original 2011-2013 election for the Board of Directors was conducted. All of you knew, or should have known, one of the candidates was not qualified to be family member and therefore not able to run for the board; however, you sanctioned her application anyway. The 2009-2011 governing body wantonly and with malice of for thought violated not only our governing By-Laws, but also all of the faith and trust the membership placed in you. You are putting this organization in jeopardy of losing our non-profit status by playing fast and loose with the League’s By-laws.
 
This is not a game, Mark, and I am not playing with you. You and the League leadership are in violation of our By-Laws.
 
Faith,
 
Patty Hopper

To our knowledge, Mr. Stephensen has yet to reply to Mrs. Hopper yet, another truly incredible piece of information was brought to our attention from another NLF member, something we somehow missed at the meetings.

David Gray, Board Member of the NLF, suggested that the Board consider upgrading membership for those concerned citizens who  have received the League’s Distinguished Service Award.  Mr. Gray wanted to see these past recipients upgraded from associate members to family members; giving them voting rights and the right to hold a seat on the Board of Directors. Several spoke up, including Dick Childress, stating that he didn’t agree with the idea and no one seconded the motion either.

This action, even if it had been seconded, the motion would be against the NLF by-laws and therefore not something that can be changed via a  meeting motion. A full vote of membership would be required to change that by-law.   Would it be presumptuous of us to assume that, with her 30+ years with the NLF, AMG would have had intimate knowledge of the policies and by-laws of the organization?  Why did she allow the discussion and subsequently motion to go to the floor knowing that it was in direct contradiction of an existing bylaw?

Other questions to consider are;
1) Why was this topic brought up at this specific time taking into consideration all of the other transitions that will be taking place with AMG leaving the position of Executive  Director?
2) Why, after over 40 years of functioning under the existing rules for membership, was there a need to address this issue in such a passing manner?

Could the answer simply be that two of this year’s recipients of the award were none other than Susie and Allen Harvey?  Was this motion by Mr. Gray simply a back door to circumvent the existing by-laws?

Ann Mills-Griffiths: Creative Accounting

Today’s post is going to take a look at the National League of Families’ creative accounting.

We thought we would take a layman’s look at the forms.  If you would like to see the forms we are referencing, you can find them here: Past 990 IRS forms.    Here are some questions that really jumped out at us from the 990s forms:

 

1)  In recent years, the NLF’s tax forms have not disclosed any revenue they take in from membership dues.   Why, with at least two locations in the forms where they are supposed to indicate income from membership fees, is the amount not listed?

2)  The NLF states that it makes no income from any fundraising events. Yet, in 2009 they claim to have spent $3,317 and $3,105 in 2008 for just that.   Therefore how do they justify the various amounts they dedicate annually to fundraising?  Also, are we to believe that the fees we pay just to attend the annual meetings in DC do not have even an additional $5 or so in them to add to the NLF coffers?  What about the League sanctioned vendors who sold their wares outside the conference hall?  Did the NLF not receive revenue from those vendors?

3)  On the first page of both the ’08 and ’09 990 forms they claim to have no volunteers yet list the services of unpaid volunteers at $400,123 and $422,914 respectively.  How do we explain over $820,000 in volunteer hours over two years with no volunteers?

4)  If anyone out there has an accounting background, we would love to know what “casual labor” is.  On p. 10 of the 2009 990 form it lists $10,031 for casual labor and the only definition we can find of ‘casual labor’ is “work that does not promote or advance the cause of the organization/business.”

We sincerely hope that the NLF’s Board Members are paying very close attention to what is being shared here.  While researching for this piece we discovered something very revealing.  If the League were to lose their non-profit status, according to multiple websites we consulted, Board members could be responsible for paying any excise tax that is levied against the NLF if the IRS determines that actions of the League financially benefited another individual.  We would highly recommend that everyone read the following links:  Link #1 (About loss of tax-exempt status), Link #2 (IRS link to Questions about running a tax-exempt organization) and Link #3 ( IRS Exemption requirements).

This last link includes this significant piece of information, 

“The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. If the organization engages in an excess benefit transaction with a person having substantial influence over the organization, an excise tax may be imposed on the person and any organization managers agreeing to the transaction.”

Could the fact that close to half of an organization’s income was routinely used to pay the salary, benefits and pension for its sole employee be considered an excess benefit transaction?