NEW YORK (FOX5NY) - "There was no lavish spending at Wounded Warrior Project," said Steve Nardizzi, former CEO of Wounded Warrior Project. Nardizzi and Al Giordano, former COO of WWP, were fired earlier this month after a CBS-NY Times report alleged WWP spent 40 to 50 percent of its money on overhead — including extravagant parties and last-minute, business-class air travel.
An example was the group's 2014 staff meeting in Colorado, where Nardizzi rappelled from the tower of a 5-star hotel into a crowd of employees. The public relations firm, Abernathy MacGregor, said the meeting cost about $970,000. The CBS investigation put the total price tag on the 2014 meeting at $3 million.
"The board looked at these allegations made in the media. They called in a forensic accounting firm, a major law firm and they found that was grossly exaggerated," said Nardizzi.
The price tag was closer to $1M, added Nardizzi.
The firm investigating the expenditures also pushed back against the criticism, saying the group's most recent audited financial statement shows 81 percent of donations were spent on "programming," not fundraising. The statement didn't provide details, but cited a "joint allocation" accounting rule that enables non-profits to classify fundraising as a service to clients as long as the event or material also is "educational" and includes a "call to action" beyond simply appealing for donations.
The board ultimately fired Nardizzi and Giordano aiming "to help restore trust in the organization" that began as a shoestring charity providing goodie bags to hospitalized soldiers and became an $800 million fundraising phenomenon.
"(WWP) provides hundreds of millions of dollars to warriors," said Giordano.
For the year ending in September 2014, Nardizzi earned $496,415 and Giordano $397,329, while at least 10 others took in more than $160,000 each. Compensation accounted for $32 million, or 13 percent, of the group's $248 million in spending that year.
The $26 million spent on meetings and conferences that year represented 10 percent of its budget, while 76 percent, or $189,558,100, went to veterans programs, the IRS filings said.
Charity watchdogs would consider that a respectable, though not overwhelming, share. However, almost $41 million of that programming amount was claimed as the "educational" component of fundraising requests; without it, programming accounted for only 60 percent of the budget. Charitywatch.org says its analysis concluded that Wounded Warriors spent just 54 percent on programs rather than overhead, for a C rating.
The organization was started founded in 2003 by John Melia, a former Marine who was injured in a helicopter crash in Somalia, to provide backpacks containing items like underwear, telephone cards and CD players for soldiers who may arrive at U.S. hospitals with just the clothes they're wearing.
"It is now time to put the organization's focus directly back on the men and women who have so bravely fought for our country and who need our support," Odierno said in the statement.
With the Associated Press