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Pierce County veterans charity marred by missing money and lies

A KING 5 investigation found thousands of dollars meant to support veterans went instead to casinos and a private bank account.

Thousands of dollars that were supposed to support struggling veterans in Pierce County instead was spent in local casinos, withdrawn from casino ATM machines, and transferred into someone’s personal bank account, a KING 5 investigation found.

The four-month investigation revealed financial devastation and a chaotic atmosphere at the long-standing charity, Veterans Independent Enterprises of Washington (VIEW). Veterans interviewed by KING said the conditions have left them back on the brink of homelessness, poverty and addiction.

At issue is whether VIEW’s operations manager, Rosemary Hibbler, is to blame. According to legal filings, she’s had control and direct access to VIEW’s bank accounts since 2016.

“I thought, ‘This is a family, this is a place of healthy, fellowship and being involved.’ And boy did I get a rude awakening,” said Darrell Booth, a 72-year-old Airforce veteran from Lakewood.

VIEW has served veterans in need for 31 years. The organization offers stable housing and employment. Those in the program work in the charity's workshop, located in University Place, where they refurbish respirators and other pieces of equipment under contracts with Boeing.

VIEW’s support and resources gave 62-year-old Army veteran Mike Garwick a fresh start at life. For six years Garwick lived behind a decrepit bowling alley in Tacoma, struggling with addiction, depression, and hopelessness.

“I felt like I lost my self-respect, my dignity, [I had] no motivation,” Garwick said. “At that time I had $134 per month from [military-related] disability and food stamps. That made it even harder to get off the streets.”

In 2013, Garwick got sober through a Veteran’s Administration treatment program. Upon completion, the VA suggested he apply for housing and employment at VIEW.  He was accepted.

“It was great,” Garwick said. “I needed [the help] real bad because I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted on the streets. I really don’t.”

IRS filings by the non-profit show contracts with Boeing bring in approximately $1 million annually. The most recent income tax form was received by the IRS in 2017.

But a KING 5 analysis of more than 1,200 pages of legal filings, financial documents and state records found the organization is struggling to pay bills and to pay the veterans on time.

In 2017, 2018 and 2019, VIEW employees filed complaints to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) reporting they were paid late, checks were bouncing, and at times, they weren’t paid at all.

“Please help me,” one veteran wrote to L&I in a complaint filed in 2018. “I should have $3,100 or $3,400 coming from [VIEW].”

“I want my money…I want my pay…my check bounced,” wrote another former VIEW employee in a complaint to the state in 2018.

“I feel like I’m getting taken advantage of...when I don’t get a paycheck for the time that I put in. I feel like right there, that to me is a lie. [They’d say] ‘Yeah, I’m going to pay you on this day’ and when that day rolls around, there’s no paycheck,” said Walt Hamilton, an Army veteran who worked for VIEW delivering equipment to Boeing plants for two years.

A class action lawsuit involving more than 70 veterans was filed against VIEW in 2018. It alleges all VIEW employees were laid off for a month that year. Instead of going home, the veterans were encouraged to “volunteer” their time in order to get the Boeing orders out the door.

“It wasn’t like [VIEW was asking them to] go man a tent at a blood drive or something like that, it was doing the exact same job that employees do [for free]. That is against the law,” said Jim Pizl, the plaintiff attorney representing the veterans in the lawsuit.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as per the Fair Labor and Standards Act, individuals are not allowed to volunteer for an organization when the activity is part of their regular job description.

“…paid employees of a non-profit organization cannot volunteer to provide the same type of services to their non-profit organization that they are employed to provide,” wrote Dept. of Labor representatives in a Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet.

Some veterans told KING 5 they agreed to work without pay because they worried they would lose their VIEW housing if they didn’t go along with the plan.

“The way [the operations manager] stated it just made us feel like if we did not come in and volunteer that our housing would be in jeopardy,” Garwick said.

A perceived threat of losing housing was an allegation outlined in a motion filed in the class action lawsuit.

“..volunteering wasn’t truly optional…For many of them, VIEW also controlled their housing and it can be inferred that they needed to volunteer or be homeless,” wrote plaintiff attorneys in a motion for partial summary judgment.

The lawsuit alleges a total of $561,802 is due the 73 veterans for unpaid wages, illegal deductions from paychecks, state penalties and attorney’s fees.

Garwick, the former VIEW program participant, said lack of an income has taken a toll. He said he’s lost 30 pounds while trying to skimp on grocery bills.

“I went from eating two or three times a day to now eating once a day and maybe a snack to make the food stamps last,” Garwick said.

In a June 13 email to KING, VIEW’s former attorney said the organization should not have to pay state penalties for paychecks that were only a few days late.

“It would be a draconian measure to impose (penalties) for pay checks that were delivered a day or two late and would have the potential for a serious impact upon (VIEW),” wrote defense attorney Richard Wooster, who has since resigned from representing VIEW.

Wooster also wrote the charity has paid up what they owe the veterans and that during the time period where employees were asked to volunteer, they did so willingly.

“There is a bona fide dispute as to whether the wages are due for the volunteer periods. Each employee who agreed to volunteer signed a sheet indicating that they were volunteering…The Washington wage regulations on restrictions upon permitting employees of an entity to volunteer are not well defined,” Wooster wrote.

VIEW’s operations manager since 2016, Hibbler, said she’s working hard to fix the financial mess. She said the problems stem from prior leadership who left her with massive debt to take care of.

“There was a lot of mismanagement, a lot of missteps…so I had to basically start over,” said Hibbler. “As far as where is the money going, we have a lot of things from the past I’m still dealing with. [There are] issues and unpaid bills from 2006 up through now so every dime we get in is going out the door.”

Hibbler is an Army veteran herself. In 2014 she was appointed to the state's Women Veterans Advisory Committee by the agency director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. On Veteran’s Day 2018, she appeared on KING 5 as an expert on how to best help those who have served our country.

A review of Washington State Patrol criminal background records also shows Hibbler is an eight-time convicted felon. She’s spent time in prison for theft and forgery, stemming from cases in 2007 and 2008. Her convictions were for stealing money from the bank accounts of two Western Washington companies while working as a bookkeeper.

Hibbler said she did not steal from VIEW.

“No. No, [I have not stolen]. What I have done is committed myself to making sure that the VIEW stays, the doors stay open and that we continue to support our veterans,” Hibbler said.

Hibbler also said VIEW’s board oversees all financial transactions. In addition to Hibbler, two others sit on the board of directors: Gary Peterson, board secretary and Donald Hutt, board president.

“Everything that I’ve done, my board has approved,” Hibbler said.

Records filed in the veteran’s class action lawsuit, and analyzed by KING 5, show more than 100 unexplained bank withdrawals and expenditures from VIEW accounts in the last year that total more than $325,000.

The money includes approximately $255,000 in withdrawals of cash and checks, which Hibbler endorsed.

Peterson, the board secretary, said Hibbler explained she was withdrawing cash to purchase cashier’s checks to make payroll.

Hibbler provided KING 5 with cashier’s checks made out to employees that totaled $62,250. She said she was unable to explain the rest of those withdrawals due to missing records at VIEW.

“I have sent copies of the cashiers I have. Our files were stolen, otherwise I would be able to provide more documentation,” Hibbler wrote in an email on July 22.

The records also revealed $40,500 in bank transfers from a VIEW account into a personal bank account. Peterson said he did not know who the account belonged to. He also said he asked Hibbler for an explanation, and she said she didn’t know whose account it was either.

KING 5 also identified more than $25,000 in ATM withdrawals and purchases inside the Macau Casino in Lakewood and the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn. The transactions occurred between May 2, 2018, to March 18, 2019.

Hibbler denied using the VIEW’s money to gamble but did not explain the withdrawals and purchases.  

“I’m not going to explain them. I’m not going to. Not without my attorney I’m not going to,” Hibbler said. “I did not take VIEW’s money and use it to gamble. That’s the answer to that question.”

Peterson said he was just recently made aware of the casino transactions. He said Hibbler justified them by explaining she did the VIEW’s “books” at the casino. She said she wasn’t cashing her paychecks, so she got money from the gambling establishments instead.

When KING questioned the reasoning behind Hibbler’s casino explanation, Peterson said he was getting “suspicious” and was going to “look into it.”

“I have been trying to get this stuff straightened out. It’s hard because I don’t have all of the documentation,” Peterson said. “You are making me very suspicious. I thought I had this all worked out. From what you’re saying right now, it doesn’t seem like I’ve done [my due diligence]….I am less and less trusting of her right now.”

KING 5 was unable to reach Hutt, the board president.

Army veteran Garwick was evicted from VIEW housing in June for failure to pay rent. He admitted he was not paying because he said VIEW owed him more in back wages than what he owed for housing. He is currently living in a motel and is working to secure placement at a homeless shelter in Tacoma.

“[I feel] like I’ve lost. Like I’m losing everything again. Veterans should not have to live this way,” Garwick said.

When asked about their contracts with the VIEW, Boeing said they are looking into the allegations.

“We were recently made aware of an issue but we will not comment on active assessments. Boeing has a robust system in place to ensure that our supplier partners share our commitment to ethical business practices and are compliant when it comes to human rights,” wrote Paul R. Bergman, Boeing Media Relations Lead in an email.

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office is investigating the VIEW’s finances. Six former VIEW employees and two of Hibbler’s former employers said AG investigators interviewed them about the case. It is unknown when the AG investigation will be completed.

Board secretary Peterson said the VIEW is about giving people second chances and the board was aware Hibbler had a criminal record when she was hired as the operations manager. He said he was unaware that her crimes were financial in nature.

“I think I’m being portrayed unfairly,” Hibbler said. “I think I’m the scapegoat. I’m the one that’s out in front, so of course, I have to take it.”

Hibbler remains the operations manager of VIEW.

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