Columbus City Councilman Hearcel F. Craig said last week he was honored to be asked to serve on the board of the Northland-based AMVETS Career Center, even though the organization subsequently was plunged into controversy as the result of an investigation by the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
Craig's appointment was announced Feb. 5, but it was only last week that the reasons for a shakeup of the board's membership were made clear.
Attorney General Mike DeWine announced an agreement had been filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to revamp the accounting and reporting practices of the AMVETS Career Center as well as the AMVETS Department of Ohio and AMVETS Department of Ohio Service Foundation.
An investigation by DeWine's office uncovered "the misappropriation of millions in charitable funds held by the three AMVETS organizations for the benefit of unemployed veterans, veterans in need of career training, ROTC programs, veterans scholarships, veterans hospitals and homeless veterans," the announcement said.
The Ohio AMVETS Career Center, with offices on East Dublin-Granville Road, is a public charity that funded nearly 60 AMVETS posts around the state with more than $10 million since 2006, according to the statement. The money was intended to pay for satellite career centers to help veterans obtain employment.
The investigation revealed that "the overwhelming majority of charitable assets required by law for use by the posts' career centers" were being used for other purposes. AMVETS Career Center board members and some AMVETS Department of Ohio officials were aware of this practice, DeWine's office said.
Money sent to the posts was supposed to be used to help veterans at satellite career centers, DeWine's office said.
However, the investigation revealed that many times, the so-called career centers at the posts were merely "facades" that consisted of little more than an outdated computer in a corner. Veteran attendance was sparse or non-existent.
Craig said last week he was made aware of the investigation at the time DeWine approached him about serving on the AMVETS board.
"Clearly, there was the implication, the allegation, of commingling and other things," Craig said. "It was my feeling toward the ends of it you can't paint the organization with a broad brush. Certainly, this is an opportunity for reform.
"It was an honor and a privilege," he said of his appointment. "I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done. A board is being assembled from people all over the state. It's an opportunity to work in concert with them."
The new Ohio AMVETS Career Center board members include Craig, a veteran and chairman of city council's veterans affairs committee; Curtis McPherson, executive director of the Warren County Veterans Service Commission; Matt Slater, director of veterans services for Family and Community Services, a Ravenna-based nonprofit that serves the needs of veterans in northeast Ohio; and Terry Sayers, chapter commander of the Disabled American Veterans of Trumbull County.
"This will require a lot of work, given the set of circumstances," Craig said. "I think those who are coming on the board understand that.
"It will be a collaborative process with the end result being, as we revamp the accounting and reporting practices, looking at the financial practices and so forth, we're serving the men and women who have served this country."
For now, he said, the plan is to keep the center on East Dublin-Granville Road, but the new board will consider a possible name change.
"It needs to be discussed and discussed very thoroughly," Craig said.