The roster at the U.S. Navy Veterans Association's Washington headquarters includes CEO Jack L. Nimitz, secretary Brian Reagan and compliance officer Patsy Mii. State officers include Saul Sena of Delaware, Gaither Longfellow of Alabama and, from Alaska, Bob "Boats" Rankles.
Their names are among the 85 included in documents the association filed with the IRS.
Is Nimitz a descendant of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II? The Navy Veterans Association would not say and provided no help locating him or any of the other officers.
The St. Petersburg Times conducted hundreds of searches of directories, online public records databases and newspaper and broadcast stories going back more than 25 years. In six months searching, the Times could not find any of them.
In a request submitted through the association's general counsel, the newspaper asked to speak with any executive other than Bobby Thompson, as an easy way to put to rest the question of whether they exist.
The association never made anyone available, in person or by phone. Instead, as proof of its history and achievements, the group printed out its 2,500-page Web site, navyvets.org, and sent the copies to the newspaper.
But fact-checking revealed numerous questionable statements.
• • •
Though not created until 2002, the Navy Veterans says it's one of the oldest veterans charities in the country. It traces its roots to 1927 based on linkage to the Naval Air Veterans Association, a group that in tax filings the Navy Veterans says was never certified a nonprofit and had no assets in 1991 when it was dissolved for "lack of member interest."
• • •
Nowhere does the Web site mention Richard Barberry, listed in tax papers as the group's founding president. The Navy Veterans said leaving off its version of George Washington was a "clerical error.''
• • •
The Web site lists dozens of officers of its state chapters that the Times could not find. The newspaper did find an Ed Disho, listed as the chief financial officer for the New Mexico and California state chapters. But the Ed Disho in Los Gatos, Calif., a real estate businessman, said he knew nothing about the Navy Veterans Association.
The association's explanation: The newspaper may have looked under an incorrect spelling: "a variant of the last name (Disho) is Deshoo or Deeshoo, and may have been changed to avoid racial repercussions from a foreign sounding name."
• • •
The Web site says its news operation was awarded the Jill Dando award in 2003 for international news reporting. Dando, an English journalist murdered in 1999, had a crime scene institute at a London university founded in her honor. The institute gives the Jill Dando award for public acts of bravery. An official there said it had no record of giving any award to the U.S. Navy Veterans Association.
The association said its Jill Dando award came from "a British Women's organization" that it declined to identify, saying, "Why, so you can attack them?"
• • •
In a 2004 Web posting, the Navy Veterans invited its members to join a "sister" group, the U.S. Navy Cruiser Sailors Association, at its convention in Charleston, S.C. Edward August was listed as the contact person.
Now treasurer of the 4,000-member Cruiser Sailors, August said the Navy Veterans Association was not invited and nobody from the association attended. "I just don't know that group,'' he said. "The invitation didn't come from me."
• • •
The Web site says the Navy Veterans received "substantial contributions" from three benefactors: the Irene T. Boyar Foundation, the John F. Kearney Foundation and the Deborah & Charles Pissott Foundation. The association refused to provide addresses or phone number for the foundations, which the Times could not find.
No tax records, Web sites or news stories could be found for these foundations, nor were they listed in major reference directories of U.S. foundations.
Jeff Testerman and John Martin, Times staff writers