MARIETTA, Ga. -- A local charity created to honor a Marine killed in last year's attack at a recruitment office in Chattanooga, says it's been duped into helping another non-profit organization. Now it wants that money back and to distance itself from any future fundraising activities.
The financial feud is currently being played out on websites and social media. But there's already threats to take the matter to court.
The co-founder of the Skip Wells Foundation, Dr. Jason Weeks, says it was created to help organizations close to Lance Corporal Skip Well's heart. Given the generous support his mother received after his death, she wanted to donate the money to groups like the ROTC and band at Sprayberry High, where he attended before joining the Marines.
Weeks says the founder of Marines & Mickey, John Simpson, also attended Wells' funeral and asked for support. Simpson's charity is aimed, in part, at giving military families time together, with paid trips to Disney theme parks.
For months, the Foundation says it allowed Marines & Mickey to use Skip Wells name and even set up a few joint fundraisers. Add to that a large personal donation he says Well's mother made to the organization and the partnership helped raise close to $140,000. Now, Weeks says they want that money back.
Weeks says Simpson introduced himself as a long time Marine veteran, a Recon Marine and former drill instructor. While those credentials are no longer listed on the non-profits website and Simpson denies ever claiming to be a Force Recon Marine, 11Alive's Rebecca Lindstrom used the Wayback Machine, a web service that pulls up older versions of the same site. It shows as late as February 2016, Simpson was promoting his service as a Recon Marine and Parris Island Drill Instructor.
Weeks says he has sources within the military that tell him Simpson only served three years in the Marines and was actually discharged for bad conduct. Weeks says he's filed an open records request with the military to get a copy of his DD214 which will detail Simpson's actual service record. Weeks says if his information is correct, Simpson has been fundraising under false pretenses.
On the Marines & Mickey webpage, Simpson accuses the Skip Wells Foundation of blackmail and extortion, an effort to take over his charity. He says in a written letter posted on the front page, that he can't return any of the money, because it's already been spent on 14 families that were sent to Disney.
Weeks says at this point all he wants is to seek the truth so that people know exactly why -- and to whom -- they are giving money.
Simpson could not be reached for comment. This is his full statement published on the Marines & Mickey website:
This past Friday I was told two weeks ago by Cathy Wells to come to Atlanta to be presented with a Donation. Once on Site, I was approached by two gentlemen that gave me two choices: Hand over my Foundation to theirs plus they wanted to follow me to the bank and have me take out all of marines and Mickeys funds withdrawn and handed over to them. OR they were going to come up with allegations to ruin me and my Foundation. After to speaking to authorities I was told that this is nothing short of Blackmail and extortion. and I will be seeking criminal Charges. Also, myself, My Foundation and its volunteers have been receiving threats via Facebook, emails, and phone calls. Our legal team are taking note of all threats, comments and calls and we will be seeking punitive damages on everyone involved. As far as $135k being stolen... that is completely false. We did several events that had Marines and Mickeys name and Skip Wells' name attached to it, these funds raised sent 14 families to Disney since October 2015. In my opinion, a donation made is not stolen when used for the mission plainly stated and publicly known. Our Mission had existed for over a year and a half prior to the tragedy in Chattanooga. and that is why, Representatives, Representing Ms Wells called my Foundation the night of the tragedy... telling us, they wanted to send all monies expected to be donated to her over the coming weeks to be instead given on to Marines and Mickey for the purpose of Sending Marines to Disney.
As far as Stolen Valor, I never said I was a Force Recon Marine, never said I had been on one tour to Afghanistan, much less four.In closing, This is nothing more than a blackmail attempt by a competing foundation.