PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Leaders appointed to take charge of a struggling veteran’s charity based in University Place are overwhelmed by the generosity citizens have shown to help the organization’s doors stay open.
A Pierce County Superior Court Commissioner ordered the takeover of the charity, Veteran's Independent Enterprises of Washington (VIEW), last week due to the alleged egregious misuse of funds by its leadership. After seeing the story on KING 5, viewers called the new management and showed up on the charity's doorstep offering to help.
"It's been overwhelming and so critical," said Dan Bugbee, an attorney assigned by the judge to take charge of the VIEW. Bugbee is an Army veteran himself and a current Lieutenant Colonel in the Washington Army National Guard.
“It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of support from the community and we certainly hope it continues until we get everything stabilized,” Bugbee said. “We’re operating off of the donations of time and money of our community.”
The Washington State Attorney General's office will ask a judge Wednesday to authorize Bugbee to stay on at the VIEW indefinitely. If that happens, Bugbee said he has a shot at getting the charity back on its feet.
“I think the future here could be very bright,” Bugbee said.
If you are interested in donating time or money to the VIEW, you can contact Damon Hunt, the appointed chief operating officer, at 253-922-5650 or email Hunt at email@example.com.
The seizure of the VIEW came at the request of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Ferguson said they took drastic action, in part, after seeing revelations from the KING 5 investigators.
Over the course of several months, KING 5 exposed that hundreds of thousands of dollars from the charity that should have gone to help poor and disabled veterans instead went to the personal gain of its now-former leader, Rosemary Hibbler.
“It’s so out of control,” said Attorney General Ferguson. “We feel strongly that conduct needs to stop and put someone else in charge to protect the assets that are there.”
When Bugbee took control on Nov. 18, he didn’t find any financial assets left at the long-standing charity, whose mission it is to provide stable housing and employment to veterans in need. The VIEW operates a shop where veterans refurbish respirators and other pieces of equipment under contracts with Boeing. The nonprofit also owns four homes in downtown Tacoma.
Bugbee found thousands of dollars owed to Tacoma Public Utilities, the water shut off, months’ worth of garbage and recycling piled up, employees not paid in weeks and Bugbee estimated the nonprofit is $1 million in debt.
With no money in any of the VIEW’s bank accounts, Bugbee said he was prepared to sell off the workshop machinery and tell everyone to go home.
Then, the calls started coming in.
One veteran donated $10,000 and a military veteran’s widow donated another $5,000. That allowed Bugbee to make payroll.
“I had feared the worst that we would have to lock it up,” Bugbee said. “We literally would have been in a situation of padlocking the front door but for the support we’ve received from the community.”
Other citizens volunteered their labor to clean up stacks of garbage and recycling. Another person lent his truck and trailer to haul everything away and paid the dump fees.
“I watched (it on) the news (and) understood the story,” said Lakewood resident David Ross who has volunteered for four days so far. “I thought ‘you know, they need help.' So the next morning I came down. It’s one person helping another, that’s all it is.”
When Bugbee approached Tacoma Public Utilities, they immediately restored water service and agreed to keep the lights on. The VIEW’s landlord, who was in eviction proceedings for lack of rent payments for months, put a stay on the legal action and agreed to half-rent payments for now.
On Tuesday, a woman dropped off well-stocked Thanksgiving baskets for the veterans who work at the VIEW. Others have volunteered to address deferred maintenance both inside and outside the VIEW’s facility.
“It makes me feel good that the rest of the community is jumping in,” Ross said.
Many of those volunteering time and money are veterans or have close connections to the veteran community.
Army veteran Johnny McQueen of Tacoma worked at the VIEW for seven years. Prior to getting help from the agency he'd struggled with incarceration. The VIEW helped him get back on his feet. He quit when promised promotions didn't materialize and paychecks were late.
"I'm just happy to see that something is happening. At one point I thought she (Hibbler) was just getting away with what she was doing," McQueen, who's 63-years-old, said. "I would love to see it brought back to what it once was. It really did help me in the situation that I was in."
McQueen is just one of hundreds of veterans helped by the VIEW over the last 30 years.
"This organization was founded on very good fundamentals of attacking (two of the main problems) faced by our veteran population: homelessness and unemployment. It gives people a stepping stone to really improve their lives," Bugbee said.
McQueen said because of the new leadership, he'd be interested in getting his job at the VIEW back.
Bugbee said he's currently putting together an advisory board to create a path forward. He's also working with Boeing to re-establish payments that were sidelined after news of the misappropriation of funds became public.
"We're hoping that Boeing will be able to get through the legal process and start the payments (for the product we're delivering) again," Bugbee said. "That is by far the lion's share of how our operations are funded."
KING 5's investigation exposed that the charity's former leader, Hibbler, diverted funds away from the veterans for three years and spent the money for her personal gain, including spending thousands of dollars in local casinos. Newly filed legal documents by the Attorney General's Office allege Hibbler gambled away thousands of the charity's dollars. Bank records obtained by KING also show Hibbler paid her personal rent and Direct TV bills with the nonprofit's money.
Hibbler and the two other board members, Don Hutt and Gary Peterson, are currently banned from the property.
“I think I’m being portrayed unfairly,” Hibbler said in July. “I think I’m the scapegoat. I’m the one out in front so of course, I have to take it.”
MORE KING 5 INVESTIGATIONS ON THE VIEW: