HOLIDAY — Brian Anderson, the co-founder of Veterans Alternative, is no longer the charity’s chief executive officer after a jury last week found him guilty of battery for inappropriately touching a massage therapist in October.
The information that Anderson left the job the day of his trial was shared with the staff of the organization on Tuesday, according to Pat Fried, chief operating officer, and Chris Sowell, operations manager. The attorney for the board, Caitlein Jammo, told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday that Anderson resigned before the trial.
The meeting was the first between the staff and board since allegations that Anderson had inappropriately touched the therapist and three women told the Tampa Bay Times that Anderson had made unwanted contact and physical advances when they worked at Veterans Alternative.
Anderson was suspended from his job after massage therapist Mariah King reported the battery to New Port Richey police, but when no official charge followed immediately, he was reinstated. After Anderson was formally charged in March, the board again suspended him to await the outcome of the trial.
Fried said the board met with the staff for two hours on Tuesday. They were told about Anderson’s separation from the organization. They also talked about the communications rift that led staff members to hire their own attorney and ask for the ouster of the chairperson and vice chairperson of the board, Thomas May and Patricia Thompson, who they believed were protecting Anderson.
“We all agreed that it’s time to move forward with the organization,” Fried said. Part of that discussion also included expanding the board of directors by adding several veterans and other people who have worked with Veterans Alternative and who share the charity’s vision, she said.
Those new members would also share core values such as zero tolerance for harassment and a strict code of ethics, she said. “Transparency, integrity and accountability, these are very important to us,” Fried said.
Sowell said the staff has been honest with clients about Anderson, saying it was important because their work is built on trust. Still, he said, “it’s been a struggle. ... We have the best, most dedicated staff here and we’ve put the mission first.”
Jammo called criticism of the board’s handling of the allegations against Anderson “unwarranted,” noting that the board placed Anderson on leave after it learned of the allegations and authorized an external investigation into the accusations. She said in a statement that the board remained silent “to avoid elevating these inaccurate claims against the board above the mission” of Veterans Alternative.
The board “took the allegations very seriously and swiftly responded in an appropriate and professional manner,“ she said. “We hope that everyone involved in this unfortunate situation gets the help they deserve, mends the wounds it has caused, and returns their focus to the brave men and women who sacrificed so much of themselves in service of our great nation.”
The organization was founded in 2014 as a provider of alternative therapies to help veterans struggling with the trauma of their service experience. Anderson was a former Green Beret whose story of military service and struggle to return to civilian life was a cornerstone of the organization.
“Brian is honored to have (led) Veterans Alternative the past six years and is extremely proud of what he and the organization accomplished during that time,” said his attorney, Shane Vogt. “Brian’s primary focus is and always will be on the well-being of his fellow veterans.
“He resigned from Veterans Alternative before the legal proceedings last week, and made that difficult decision because he wants to avoid any further distractions from Veterans Alternative’s critical mission while he continues the fight to clear his name,” Vogt said. “He will be appealing the conviction and, regardless of the outcome, will continue to dedicate his life to helping other brave veterans who sacrificed their mental and physical well-being to protect and serve our great nation.”
Anderson is currently in the Pasco County Jail awaiting sentencing on the misdemeanor battery charge on July 29. He also faces a felony drug possession charge for attempting to take a Xanax pill not prescribed for him as he was being booked into the jail.