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President of Zero-Rated Vet Charity Speeds Off in Rolls Royce

We know there’s a lot of veteran-related fraud out there – scams playing the “it’s for veterans!” card, folks who defraud the veterans disability compensation system, shell companies set up to take advantage veteran status on federal contracts, etc. etc. But this one might take the cake.

I warn you: if you are a veteran who cares about your blood pressure, you might not want to read further.

A few months ago, CNN outed Mr.Thomas Burch, Jr. for running National Vietnam Veterans Foundation (the “Foundation”), one of the worst-rated veteran charities in the country. The now-defunct organization was located in Washington, D.C., and was bashed by CNN for donating only $122,000 to veterans of its $8.6 million raised in 2014. That’s around two percent.

In that CNN report, the watchdog group Charity Navigator gave the Foundation zero out of four stars. According to its public tax returns, called 990s, the Foundation took in $29 million over a four-year period but nearly all of it went to telemarketers and fundraisers. In one year, the charity also paid a parking garage bill of nearly $8,000.

Maybe this went to keep Mr. Burch’s Rolls Royce safe. This car has been photographed multiple times during the media scrutiny – a beauty of a vintage vehicle with the customized license plate, “My Rolls.”

Yesterday, CNN announced that the organization has shut down. This was confirmed by an interview with its vice-president; also, the website has been removed from the Internet.

Even though it’s horrible to think of someone running an extremely profitable veterans organization that did not actually give back to veterans, for me, the kicker is how it wasn’t shut down sooner. Because – wait for it – Mr. Burch was/is also a VA attorney!

For years, Burch managed to hold concurrent employment as the highest officer in a non-profit organization for veterans, as well as a senior employee at the VA. (He is the leading Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) attorney for the VA Office of General Counsel. He is also the Deputy Director of Homeland Security and Operations at VA). In public statements, the VA claims it was not aware of Burch’s involvement with the Foundation, but did no one with the VA have access to the Internet? Surely any Google search, LinkedIn update, Facebook post, etc., would have clued anyone in.

Obviously, this implicates conflict of interest rules. By executive order of the President, an officer or employee who is appointed by the President to a full-time, non-career position in the executive branch (such as the VA) may not receive any outside earned income during that appointment. Other higher-level officials in the executive branch – that is, non-career officials who are compensated at the rate above a GS-15, are limited in their outside earned income opportunities by other provisions of the Ethics Reform Act of 1989.29. Such officials may not have outside income which exceeds 15% of the official salary earned by a level II on the Executive Schedule.

Regardless of the category Burch fits into, according to information published by CNN, he earned $65,000 in 2014 as the head of National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, while also earning $127,000 at the VA. This is well over the 15% cap provided by the Ethics Reform Act (applied to the lower-rate category). Other conflict of interest rules likely apply as well – those put in place to ensure that an individual is able to carry out the ethical and fiduciary duties of his tax-paid position.

An internal investigation, conducted by the agency’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”), is still in progress; and for now, Mr. Burch remains on the VA’s payroll as a staff attorney.

CNN has noted that attempts to reach Burch for comment both by phone and email were unsuccessful. At one point, when a reporter attempted to speak with him at his home, he sped off in his Rolls Royce.

I’d like a Rolls Royce, too, but I’d prefer to earn it by other means.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veterans issues at: http://www.legalmeetspractical.com.

 

 

 

One Response to “President of Zero-Rated Vet Charity Speeds Off in Rolls Royce”

  1. I think they should throw the book at him, but he’ll likely get a slap on the wrist and keep his job and his Rolls.

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