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.

Please Stand By …

According to the site statistics, many of you have been checking back to see if we have posted anything new.  While putting together the third installment of our series we stumbled across some new information that may well leads us to shedding new light on what we have been uncovering.   We needs some time to digest this new information and put it in context and then get it into written form.

If you are curious as to what we stumbled across, we will leave you with this link here, and see if you might be able to connect the dots as well.   Two specific pieces of information jumped out at us in this article, one of them being this, “In 1970 she helped form the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia to give families comfort and help connect them with resources to bring loved ones home.”

Keep in mind, we have proven that Susie/Susan Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey was born in November 1959.  She would have been 11 years old as a founding member of the NLF.

Ann Mills-Griffiths’ Straw-man Argument

As was discussed in our last post, POW/MIA son Larry Echanis wrote to the NLF Board perfectly outlining the illegal elections and the family member status that AMG has vicariously given to Susie Harvey and her fourth husband, Allen.   After publishing our post last night, someone was kind enough to send us AMG’s reply to Larry.  You can read AMG’s contemptible response here: Email_from_AMG_to_Larry_Echanis.

AMG tosses the name of Karen McManus into the situation as the Board member who, over the years has been responsible for maintaining changes/updates to the League’s By-Laws.  This is another red herring.  AMG gives the impression that she has no idea what the present By-Laws state on this issue and that Karen will have to take her valuable time to do some “historical research” – which will, of course,  take time away from “the League’s critical mission.”

This is a straw-man argument!  As the former Executive Director of the NLF, AMG should have had a current file readily available of the organization’s By-Laws as a reference.  This would also be necessary when members or the public requested them.  So, the claim that someone is going to have to do all of this research is simply bogus.  Lastly, if AMG is casually admitting that as Executive Director, she never kept a current file of our By-Laws then this would raise some more interesting questions.

Going a step further, the NLF Board just reviewed the existing By-Laws in anticipation of the 2011 annual elections to put together a list of By-Law changes that were part of the voting packet.  Therefore, how can access to the existing By-Laws be considered such a chore and ” require historic research that will drain time and attention from the League’s critical mission?”

AMG’s next argument makes reference to historical changes in NLF membership over the years, including the addition of family members in the KIA/BNR category.  Because we are talking about the status of the missing men, not the relationship between the man and the potential NLF member, we are dealing with another misdirection.  The usage of “extended family members” is interesting because, as Larry so clearly stated in his initial letter, the definition of family member includes only those who are blood or legal family members.  Susie Harvey is neither.  The By-Law section that Larry cited made no mention of “extended family members” and furthermore, as we have stated almost ad nauseam, Susie, upon divorcing her first husband lost her legal status as SSG Geist’s sister-in-law.   Divorce severs all legal ties to your former spouse AND his/her family.

In all reality, the third paragraph of AMG’s rebuttal is at the heart of this entire situation.   AMG feels that because Susie Harvey has worked so hard in the POW/MIA Issue this gives her the right to go against NLF by-laws.  Could AMG simply want to keep one of her foot soldiers on the Board with her?  There are others in the issue who work just as hard as Susie does, yet don’t claim a status that they do not have the right to and still accomplish much good work on behalf of our missing men.  Is AMG implying that Susie can only be effective as a family member?  Should we consider that a slap in the face to those who aren’t family members? Susie can be just as effective, as she has been all these years when she was not on the Board, in her rightful place as an associate member of the NLF.

After all of her years in DC, one would think that AMG would be the last person to simply believe what someone tells her without obtaining verification.  Ann apparently asked Susie for a narrative and took her word for it -bad move-AMG didn’t do her job.   As was stated in our last post, a background search of Susie Lowenthal-Geist-Ragan-Stephens-Harvey shows that she was born in November of 1959.  Per AMG, Susie was active in the POW/MIA issue as early as 1972.  Susie wants us to believe that she was putting her first husband Jeffrey through law school at that time.  We have a few pertinent questions for her.  Since Susie was born in 1959, in 1972 that would have made her all of 12 – 13 years old.  So, are they expecting us to believe that at age 13 Susie was already married to Jeffrey and working as a teacher to put him through law school?

We were happy to do Ann’s job for her.  If you would like to check our research – Here are the steps to follow:

1) Go to http://www.zabasearch.com  (This site uses various public/vital records and cross references them to give you a list of options)

2) Simply type in SUSIE HARVEY as the name and then use GEORGIA as the state.

3) All of the SUSIE HARVEYs in Georgia are listed by city.  According to Susie’s contact info on the NLF’s website, her mailing address is 902 Mill Court, Savannah, GA. According to Chatham County, Georgia’s Real Property Records, this is one of TWO residences that the Harvey’s own.  The Mill Court address was purchased by Susie Stephens (last name of Susie’s 3rd husband) in 2006 and is still listed as being in her name.

4) Scrolling down the list, once you arrive at Savannah, you will see an address of 8 River Bluff listed.  This is the other property that, according to the County Real Property Records, Susie and Allen purchased in 1999.   See link here: Real Property for Susie Stephens-Harvey.  If you want to trust us, this link shows that in October 1999 Susie and her present husband Allen purchased this property at 8 River Bluff in Savannah, GA.  (It is quite possible that after they were married, Susie added Allen to the property tax records-so Allen as the initial purchaser could be misleading.)

SUSIE E HARVEY Born  Nov 1959     
8 RIVER BLUFF   Neighborhood & Property Report  Record Created: 03/2010
SAVANNAH, GA  31406   (912) 354-4630

Please notice, after Susie’s name is her month and year of birth NOV 1959.  So how could Susie and Jeffrey be husband and wife in 1972 when she was only 13?  Ann, are you listening?

In the next paragraph Ann makes this admission of not following NLF by-laws by stating that, “The dissolution of their marriage did not result in Susie’s being disqualified as a voting League family member, nor has it since.”   If it didn’t, then why not?  Over the years AMG have removed certain women from the Family Member status and downgraded them to associate members when they remarried.  So, why not Susie?  Could it be that AMG also bought into Susie’s claims of being the biological sister of Army SSG Stephen J. Geist and now, not wanting to admit such an egregious error?Is AMG going to fight this battle to the bitter end?

Just a few final thoughts:  The fact has already been made clear that the need for substantive research to track down By-Laws is a straw-man argument.  They were certainly reviewed  prior to the 2011 elections in order to have prepared the proposed By-Law changes that were part of the ballots.   This begs the question, who prepared the proposed By-Law changes?  AMG or the Board?

Lastly, the only reason this issue may cause the NLF to spend money for legal counsel is because AMG refuses to adhere to the By-Laws. She is digging in her heels in a battle that she knows she cannot win in the hopes of wearing people out.  In addition, at the annual meetings AMG claimed that Susie had the right to be a family member because she claims to hold a Power of Attorney for her ex-brother-in-law’s case (a non sequitur).  It was also argued that “once a family member always a family member.”  Well, apparently Ann uses this last argument when it suits her because, as even Larry Echanis stated, his mother lost her family member status when she remarried.  Others did as well.

One would think that with all of the networking that AMG has done over the years in DC that she either would personally know, or have an acquaintance that would know of an attorney, who would look at this issue on a pro-bono basis.    Surely AMG knows this is an option.

******

Tomorrow: The Supporting Evidence of Susie Harvey posing as an MIA Sister

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?

Duplicity, Ann Mills Griffiths Style

Many of you may have been privy to the email that Mrs. Patricia Hopper sent to members of the Board of Directors of the National League of Families (NLF) on Tuesday outlining the situation of the apparent illegal elections that took place last month within the NLF.  If you did not, read it here:  Hopper Letter to NLF Officers.  Mrs. Hopper did a phenomenal job of explaining the illegal nature of the elections and how it needed to be rectified in order for the organization to move forward in an ethical and legal fashion.

To summarize, AMG knowingly allowed Susie Harvey, who is no longer a legal family member, to continue in a family member status and run for the Board of Directors of the NLF after Ms. Harvey remarried (twice) and severed her legal relationship with her now ex-brother-in-law SSG Stephen Geist, USA who is still POW/MIA.

Ms. Harvey erroneously argued that because she had been given some sort of power of attorney from her ex-husband to represent him in the POW/MIA case of his brother, SSG Geist, somehow makes her the PNOK and re-establishes her status as a family member.  After reviewing the NLF’s by-laws for a definition of a family member and after speaking with several attorneys and paralegals (we live in different states) not one supported the NLF’s stance on Ms. Harvey being a legal family member per the law.  The NLF even considers Harvey’s third and present husband a family member as well.

Interestingly enough, we also received an email from a wife of a missing man who, in the mid 80’s, after almost two decades of waiting for her husband to come back from Vietnam, finally remarried.   When she called the NLF offices and spoke with AMG regarding a question in the paperwork to renew her NLF membership, AMG was quick to inform her that now that she had remarried she was no longer a family member.  She was then told that if she wanted to continue as a member of the NLF, it would have to be as an associate member, not a family member.

UPDATE: We just received an email (8/1/11) from the POW/MIA wife mentioned above.  She asked that we correct the piece with the following fact.  Apparently AMG cashed her check for associate membership after their phone conversation yet never put her on the mailing list even as an associate member.  So, AMG pulled a “take the money and run.”  Interestingly enough, money will be the theme of our next post. 

This clearly shows that AMG cherry-picks through the by-laws of the NLF and uses them to her advantage when she pleases with no regard for the by-laws of the organization that has supplied her with a salary, pension and many other benefits over the years.   This also presents a complete disregard for the rationale for having by-laws in the first place – to prevent individuals from randomly making decisions for their personal benefit, not those of the organization and its membership.

As if this all weren’t enough, we received a forward of the email reply that was sent to Mrs. Hopper from the NLF’s Mark Stephensen:


Patty,
 
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.
 
V/R,
 
Mark Stephensen, Past Chairman, Current Treasurer
Board of Directors
National League of POW/MIA Families

It is clear that Mr. Stephensen shares the same disregard for the by-laws of the NLF and the organization’s membership as AMG.   I wonder what Mr. Stephensen thinks about the family member who contacted us above about being downgraded to an associate member after she remarried per AMG?

If Mr. Stephensen sees respecting and clearly adhering to the by-laws of the NLF as “irrelevant, baseless and without merit” then we certainly have to question his agenda as well.   If an NLF Board Member sees the important work of the Board to be something outside of enforcing the by-laws and responding professionally to the real concerns of its membership, it is no wonder that so many family members have disassociated themselves from the NLF.   Year after year, cavalier behavior like this toward members is the reason why so many families felt disenfranchised by those who were purportedly representing them.

One final thought, could this little fiasco be the reason why, during the Membership Meeting last week in DC, the Board floated the idea out there to allow concerned citizens to have family member status within the NLF?  While no one seconded the motion and even Dick Childress stood up and said he didn’t agree with it, was the Board already aware of their faux pas and looking for a backdoor to grandfather in their mistake?  After decades with the legal definition of family member being enforced – the timing of this is suspect to say the very least.

Mr. Stephensen certainly proves that it is time for a change at the NLF.

A Family’s Story: Adventures in Laos

As the news of our website begins to spread to those involved in the POW/MIA Issue, more and more family members are coming forward with their stories about Ann Mills-Griffiths.  Over the weekend we were contacted by a family member and former member of the National League of Families with an incredible story of just how far Ann was prepared to go to maintain control.

According to this family member in the early 80’s some 12 to 15 individuals that were involved in the issue, many POW/MIA parents, received invitation packets to spend three glorious weeks in Laos through the OxFam organization. Oxfam, an international organization whose mission statement is to, “find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice” around the world, invited this hand-picked group to bring supplies and other gifts to the Attapeu Province of Laos.

Another organization, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), also played a role in this trip by partnering with OxFam.  AFSC was founded in 1917 during World War I as an avenue for conscientious objectors to still serve the war effort without enlisting.  Many served as ambulance drivers, attended to the wounded or stayed behind after the war to help with the rebuilding of Europe.

The purpose of the trip was to impress the provincial chief of Attapeu in the hopes that he would then be more cooperative with information and possibly facilitate the release of  some of the American POWs who were believed held in the area.   The 30 some paged packet gave details of the all-expense paid visit, a background on the cultural aspects of the trip and the tentative schedule of events and travel itinerary.

The family member we spoke with found the packet’s arrival somewhat unexpected.  After a call to the contact number at OxFam to ask just how the organization came across their name and address, it was discovered that the list of those to be invited was given to OxFam by none other than AMG. This of course sent up a red flag as the family member and AMG were not the best of friends, to put it mildly.  Therefore, the idea of AMG submitting names to OxFam was suspect to say the least.

The family member then called AMG to confirm the information and also to ask why AMG would give their names and addresses to the international organizations without checking with them first.  In typical AMG fashion, she made light of the “oversight” and spoke of the great opportunity this would be for all involved and its’ once in a life time implications.

The family member we spoke with, upon seeing the list of invitees, considered it a who’s who of AMG’s least favorite people.  In the end, no one took the bait and the trip did not take place.  Yet there are two important pieces of information that caught our attention as we discussed this story with the family member.

1) On the list of invited was Errol Bond, the Vice President of the Support Our POW/MIAs organization, someone who had questioned AMG with regard to the money laundering via the Support Our POW/MIAs non-profit.  Mr. Bond resigned from his post with that organization because of AMG’s questionable decisions with regard to the Support funds. .

2) The dates and location of this trip to Attapeu coincided with one of the POW rescue missions led by Bo Gritz.

Imagine what would have happened to that group of POW/MIA family members and activists if they were caught flat-footed in Attapeu, Laos in the wake of a POW rescue attempt.