New Mexico has ordered the U.S. Navy Veterans Association to cease and desist all operations there, having found that the addresses listed for two of its state chapter officers do not exist.
Nor could the office of New Mexico Attorney General Gary King find a trace of either man.
Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Korsmo wrote to the group on April 1: "Since the addresses you provided are fictional, unless you are able to provide me with a showing of legitimate activity by this organization holding itself out as having a charitable purpose in New Mexico, you are on notice that you are not lawfully registered according to the (state's) Charitable Solicitations Act … and may be in violation of a number of substantive provisions of the Act as well.
"Unregistered organizations are prohibited from soliciting or operating in our state.''
Asked for comment, the Navy Veterans general counsel, Ohio lawyer Helen MacMurray, provided no explanation for the "fictional" addresses but said the nonprofit intended to respond to the attorney general's letter.
MacMurray said by e-mail that she did not regard Korsmo's letter as taking action against the Navy Veterans. "It is quite obvious (Korsmo) is in a fact gathering mode. The chapter has always operated lawfully in New Mexico and will continue to do so.''
The New Mexico chapter is one of 41 state affiliates of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association that were the subject of a St. Petersburg Times investigation published last month.
Formed in Tampa and granted tax-exempt status by the IRS in 2002, the Navy Veterans maintains that it has grown to more than 66,000 members with annual income of more than $22 million.
But its members, officers and auditors were nowhere to be found, its office addresses turned out to be a network of rented mailboxes across the United States, and its charitable gifts are mostly undisclosed and unverifiable.
The New Mexico attorney general began searching for Navy Veterans officials in that state after reading the story, which said the newspaper could find no record of 84 of the 85 charity officials listed on federal tax forms — including Cmdr. Howard Bonifacio, who listed a home address at 388 Boutz Road in Las Cruces.
Korsmo, who directs the New Mexico attorney general's charities unit, said her office could not find the address listed for Bonifacio, described as a Navy man with "honorable service" who volunteered up to 61 hours a week for the Navy Veterans without compensation.
"At that address we found nothing but some dirt and some mesquite," Korsmo said. "And Howard Bonifacio is not in the White Pages of New Mexico; nor is he in the White Pages anywhere in the U.S.
"Until Mr. Bonifacio comes to talk to us, I'm going to assume he doesn't exist."
Korsmo had no better luck finding Lt. Cmdr. Don Archer, listed on Navy Veterans Association tax forms with a Las Cruces address of 2698 Espina St.
"That address doesn't exist,'' Korsmo said. "There is a Don Archer in New Mexico, but he's a pecan farmer."
Korsmo said she took particular interest in the Times report because her father served 20 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring as commander — a "real Navy commander."
"I am copying this letter to your listed fundraiser, Associated Community Services,'' Korsmo wrote the Navy Veterans, "so that they are on notice that your organization is not authorized to solicit in New Mexico and that they are to cease any fundraising in New Mexico on your behalf until this matter is resolved.''
The Navy Veterans relies on telemarketers for most of its income, and according to contracts the Times reviewed, the fundraising companies got 60 to 90 cents of each dollar donated.
The New Mexico chapter of the Navy Veterans said it raised $249,305 in 2008, the most current tax return available. The return listed most of the money paying for food, shelter, clothing and cash assistance to unspecified veterans and their families. The Navy Veterans refused to allow the Times to inspect a single receipt for any of its expenses nationwide.
Korsmo sent her cease-and-desist letter to Ed Disho, care of Bobby Thompson, at the address the Navy Veterans lists for its headquarters in the nation's capital, 1818 M St. NW, Suite 275, which is rented mailbox No. 275 at a UPS store.
Disho is listed on tax forms as the chief financial officer of the New Mexico chapter. Thompson is a founder of the charity and the only officer the Times found in six months of searching.
Thompson, 64, lived for more than a decade in a $1,200-a-month Ybor City duplex, which was his home and offices for not only the Navy Veterans nonprofit but for an associated political action committee called NAVPAC. Thompson was the only person listed on disclosure records as contributing to NAVPAC, and he personally donated at least $181,950 to political candidates around the country.
After the Times began asking questions about the Navy Veterans charity, NAVPAC shut down and Thompson cleared out of the Ybor City duplex. He left his landlord no forwarding address.
Jeff Testerman can be reached at (813) 226-3422 or [email protected]