‘Sham’ wounded veterans charity settlement involves Palm Harbor doctor, wife

Donations were supposed to pay for veterans’ medical care. Florida’s attorney general says not much did.
Consumer advocates warn good-hearted donors to check out charities first.
Consumer advocates warn good-hearted donors to check out charities first. [ ELISE AMENDOLA | AP ]
Published March 25, 2021|Updated March 25, 2021

The charity, founded by a Palm Harbor doctor, was called Healing Heroes Network.

Its stated goal: To use generous contributions from donors for medical care, therapy and rehabilitation for veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11.

“Often, these men and women are unable to receive the medical treatments that would help them return to a productive civilian life,” read a fundraising letter.

But this year, after a multistate investigation, the Florida Attorney General’s Office called Healing Heroes “a sham veterans charity.” A recent court settlement would prevent Dr. Allan Spiegel, 68, wife Stacey Spiegel, 59, and son Neal Spiegel, 31, from running a nonprofit for five years.

They will also pay $95,000 that will go to a veterans’ charity that provides the kind of services Healing Heroes promised.

Healing Heroes Network, Inc. was formed in Palm Harbor in 2008, according to court records, and sought donations through telemarketing and direct mail.

But “very little of the charitable contributions” went toward care for wounded veterans, the Attorney General’s Office said.

Instead, money went to professional telemarketing fundraisers, ads, salaries for Stacey and Neal Spiegel, and T-shirts from a family member’s clothing business, according to state officials.

In 2016 and 2017, Healing Heroes “falsely claimed” on social media that 100 percent of its proceeds went to wounded veterans, the Attorney General’s Office said. In those two years, Healing Heroes provided or paid for medical services for only 10 veterans across the country, according to the civil action filed in Pinellas County court earlier this year.

In 2016, Healing Heroes’ revenue was $2.7 million. A small fraction of that — $13,387 — was spent on grants and other direct services to veterans, court records said.

“This is outrageous,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a January news release. “The fact that anyone would exploit the service and sacrifice of our wounded military heroes to solicit money under false pretenses is deserving of the highest level of contempt.”

Dr. Spiegel did not return messages left at his medical office. Stacey Spiegel could not be reached for comment. Lawyers listed in court documents did not respond to phone and email requests for comment. Contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, Neal Spiegel declined to speak with a reporter.

Dr. Allan Spiegel talks with a patient in a hyperbaric chamber in 2008 in Palm Harbor.
Dr. Allan Spiegel talks with a patient in a hyperbaric chamber in 2008 in Palm Harbor. [ Times ]

Healing Heroes was dissolved in late 2017, and Hero Giveaways formed soon after. Court documents say Hero Giveaways did not use proceeds to provide benefits to veterans and their families “as advertised.” Hero Giveaways was voluntarily dissolved in 2019.

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In the settlement court documents say was agreed to by the parties, Healing Heroes and Hero Giveaways cannot solicit for charitable donations again. The Spiegels agreed to pay the $95,000 and can’t oversee, manage or solicit donations for any nonprofit for five years, the Attorney General’s Office said.

The Florida proceedings were part of a joint action with California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Washington state. The multistate settlement is final in Florida, but awaiting court approval in one other state before the $95,000 is recovered and distributed.

In 2013, as part of a yearlong investigation into charities across America, the Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed Healing Heroes. The report cited a few red flags.

Related: America's 50 worst charities rake in nearly $1 billion for corporate fundraisers

Dr. Spiegel, a specialist in hyperbaric oxygen therapy, advocated it to treat some combat injuries, the Times reported. During a two-year period when the charity said it spent about $160,000 on services for veterans, he got paid more than half of that.

Stacey Spiegel ran the nonprofit a few doors down from her husband’s medical practice and in 2012 earned $110,000 as its treasurer, the Times reported.

To avoid potential charity scams, the Attorney General’s Office advises searching the name of the enterprise online along with the word “scam” or “complaint.” Would-be donors should also avoid being swayed by a charity’s name alone.