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Jailhouse calls reveal Pasco veterans charity leader sought $25,000 from group

Brian Anderson and his wife discussed a plan to eliminate nearly all Veterans Alternative staff and return to the charity.
A series of recorded telephone conversations between Brian Anderson (pictured) and his wife Amy, which took place between his July 13 conviction on a misdemeanor battery charge and July 29, when he was sentenced to 120 days in jail, revealed issues that were on Anderson’s mind as he adjusted to life in the Pasco County Jail.
A series of recorded telephone conversations between Brian Anderson (pictured) and his wife Amy, which took place between his July 13 conviction on a misdemeanor battery charge and July 29, when he was sentenced to 120 days in jail, revealed issues that were on Anderson’s mind as he adjusted to life in the Pasco County Jail. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sep. 13

NEW PORT RICHEY — As staffers at Veterans Alternative were reorganizing to continue serving local veterans struggling to re-enter civilian life, charity co-founder Brian Anderson and his wife were planning another course of action.

A series of recorded telephone conversations between Brian and Amy Anderson, which took place between Anderson’s July 13 conviction on a misdemeanor battery charge and July 29, when he was sentenced to 120 days in jail, revealed issues that were on Anderson’s mind as he adjusted to life in the Pasco County Jail.

During a July 21 conversation, Amy Anderson told her husband she had been talking to Thomas May, then chairman of the charity’s board of directors. May, she said, had a plan he would soon reveal that would eliminate nearly all of the existing staff, and would bring the Andersons back into the organization.

Amy Anderson said that Pat Fried, then Veterans Alternative’s chief operating officer, was a “cancer” that needed to be removed from the organization. Anderson said she would support the “no Patty party” she said May suggested should take place after Fried was dismissed.

Related: Women recount claims of sexual harassment by Pasco veterans charity leader

The phone conversations included frequent questions by Brian Anderson to his wife about $25,000 he was hoping to receive from the Veterans Alternative board. Anderson also gave his wife the names of important public figures he hoped could help him get out of jail. And the calls included details of a plan by Amy Anderson to show up regularly at the workplace of Mariah King, the massage therapist who had accused Brian Anderson of inappropriately touching her during a massage session last October.

King filed a report with New Port Richey police, and Anderson was formally charged in March. Just before the case went to trial in July, Anderson quit his job as CEO. Three other women who worked at Veterans Alternative came forward after King filed her police complaint. They each said that Anderson had made unwelcome sexual advances toward them.

During Anderson’s sentencing hearing, prosecutor Pota Papakos described a jailhouse phone conversation in which Amy Anderson said she decided to visit the chiropractic office where King worked. The Tampa Bay Times requested a copy of that call and others related to the battery case.

During one call, Amy Anderson told her husband that she planned to visit the chiropractor’s office frequently. She said she was a patient there already. “That’s my place,” Amy Anderson told her husband, noting it would be okay if King just left town. King, she said, “could just find work somewhere else.”

The issue of the cash Anderson had requested from the board came up several times, with Amy Anderson explaining that documentation of the expenses had to be provided. In a July 18 conversation, Anderson told his wife to look through a pile of what he called “random” papers on his desk and compare them to a spreadsheet on his computer.

“I don’t have the receipts,” he said, just random paperwork.

“Okay. Okay,” Amy Anderson replied. “Actual receipts, you don’t have anything like that.”

Anderson said he was told he could take information from Facebook and “do estimations of costs to it and it has to equate to about 25K,” he said.

“Okay,” Amy Anderson replied. “I’d have to guess.”

Several days later, during another call, Anderson again asked his wife about the money. She texted May while on the call; May’s response, she said, was that he had just gotten the information and was “working on it and will circle back tomorrow with the team.”

May, the former chairman of the Veterans Alternative board, and vice chairwoman Patricia Thompson, have both since resigned. While the battery case was pending, staff of the charity hired an attorney seeking to oust May and Thompson, saying they had only represented Anderson’s interests. Neither responded to questions about the $25,000 payment.

Fried, now the co-interim chief executive officer of the organization, told the Times that the previous board approved the payment, which Anderson said were his original out-of-pocket expenses to start Veterans Alternative before the Chris T. Sullivan Foundation took over funding the charity.

The current board chose to not stop the check from being processed.

“They decided that in the long run, it was probably going to cost more to contest it than to just let it go as it is,” Fried said.

Janel Norton, who co-founded the organization with Anderson in 2014, said she was not aware that Anderson had put up any personal funds to start Veterans Alternative. In fact, Norton said, the group got $5,000 in start up money to kick off their work and Sullivan came in shortly after that and funds began flowing in from the foundation.

“I was there from the beginning, and we had nothing,” Norton said.

Fried said the new board is moving the organization forward. Among the priorities is making sure that new funding can be secured to continue the charity’s work, especially in light of the needs now that the war in Afghanistan is over.

During one call, Amy Anderson said she had spoken with Sullivan, one of the founders of Outback Steakhouse. Sullivan, she said, told her he would no longer provide funding for Veterans Alternative.

When asked about that statement, Ava Forney, a Sullivan Foundation spokesperson, said their webmaster was removing the Veterans Alternative logo that had been on the foundation’s website. “We respect the mission of the organization and wish them success,” Forney wrote.

During his time heading the organization, Anderson had a high profile, even playing golf with Gov. Ron DeSantis during a fundraiser in 2019. Anderson had more than two dozen letters submitted to the court before his July sentencing from former clients, fellow veterans and others giving testimony to his good character.

While in jail, Anderson pressured his wife to get in touch with anyone who could help get him out.

She told her husband that she had spoken with Pasco state Sen. Danny Burgess, who had declined to write a letter but agreed to talk to the judge in the case, whom he knew. But Anderson said she also had to reach out to others for help, including Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Pasco County Commissioners Mike Moore and Kathryn Starkey, and Pasco Property Appraiser Mike Wells.

“There’s a lot of people that we know and this is a time when we’re saying please help us out,” Anderson said. “I just want to get the f--k out of jail so I can be with my kids and be with my family.”

Anderson still faces a felony charge for allegedly possessing a controlled substance on the day he was convicted of battery. His arraignment on that charge is set for later this month.

Anderson’s attorneys, Shane Vogt and Christopher Blaine, did not reply to requests for comment about the jail conversations.

Times staff writer Matthew Griffin contributed to this report.