Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A growing number of Minuteman Civil Defense Corps leaders and volunteers are questioning the whereabouts of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars in donations collected in the past 15 months, challenging the organization’s leadership over financial accountability.

Many of the group’s most active members say they have no idea how much money has been collected as part of its effort to stop illegal entry — primarily along the U.S.-Mexico border, what it has been spent on or why it has been funneled through a Virginia-based charity headed by conservative Alan Keyes.

Several of the group’s top lieutenants have either quit or are threatening to do so, saying requests to Minuteman President Chris Simcox for a financial accounting have been ignored.

Other Minuteman members said money promised for food, fuel, radios, computers, tents, night-vision scopes, binoculars, porta-potties and other necessary equipment and supplies never reached volunteers who have manned observation posts to spot and report illegal border crossers.

Gary Cole, the Minutemen’s former national director of operations, was chief liaison to the national press corps during the group’s April 2005 border watch in Arizona. He was one of the first to raise questions about MCDC finances. He personally collected “tens of thousands of dollars” in donations during the 30-day border vigil. But despite numerous requests — many directly to Mr. Simcox — he was never told how much money had been collected or where it went.

“This movement is much too important to be lost over a question of finances,” Mr. Cole said. “We can’t demand that the government be held accountable for failing to control the border if we can’t hold ourselves accountable for the people’s money. It’s as simple as that.”

Mr. Cole said he was removed by Mr. Simcox as a national director after the April 2005 border campaign “for asking too many questions about the money,” but he returned in October and again in April of this year to help locate and man observations posts for the Minuteman border watch in New Mexico.

“I didn’t want the thing to fail because it is much too important, so I came back to help out,” said Mr. Cole, who spent five months on the Arizona and New Mexico borders living out of a camper on the back of his pickup. “But that doesn’t mean my concern went away.”

Absent accounting

Mr. Simcox, in an interview last week with The Washington Times, estimated that about $1.6 million in donations have been collected, all of it handled through the Herndon-based Declaration Alliance, founded and chaired by Mr. Keyes. He said the donations, solicited on the group’s Web site and during cross-country appearances, included $1 million directly to MCDC and $600,000 for a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But Mr. Simcox’s numbers could not be independently verified, including claims in a 3,961-word statement issued after the interview that he spent $160,000 on “our last two monthlong border-watch operations.”

The Minuteman organization has not made any financial statements or fundraising records public since its April 2005 creation. It also has sought and received extensions of its federal reporting requirements and has not given the Minuteman leadership, its volunteers or donors any official accounting. A financial statement promised to The Times by Mr. Simcox for May was never delivered.

“I agree that the Minuteman volunteers and those who donated money to us have a right to know how much has been collected and on what it has been spent, and I know there is a lot of concern in the ranks regarding finances,” Mr. Simcox told The Times. “That’s why I sought capable accountants to get those answers, and I intend to make them public as soon as they are available.

“I can’t wait for the final audit to answer and embarrass our critics, those who have tried to destroy this organization,” he said, blaming the concern about his leadership and accountability on open borders and anti-rule of law lobbyists, racists and “those who were terminated from MCDC for violating our code of conduct.”

In the statement, Mr. Simcox said that a “fully accredited, independent auditor” had begun an accounting of income and expenses and that a final audit would be delivered to the Internal Revenue Service by Nov. 15. It also said MCDC financial operations are overseen by professional banking institutions, accountants, auditors and lawyers, none of whom was identified.

He told The Times that the audit was costing MCDC $50,000, but declined to say who was getting the money or identify other fees paid by the Minuteman organization to other “professional” entities.

‘Seriously wrong’

Mike Gaddy, a retired Army veteran of Vietnam, Grenada and Beirut who helped organize the Minuteman’s April 2005 border watch as a field coordinator, said he and other volunteers challenged Mr. Simcox on numerous occasions to come up with a financial accounting and are suspicious of the need for hiring outside consultants.

“When we heard he was hooking up with outside consultants, I pleaded with Simcox that he had to keep this thing squeaky clean because the Minuteman movement was essential to this nation’s sovereignty,” Mr. Gaddy said.

He said Mr. Simcox rejected his offer last year to personally pay for an audit to answer growing concern among the ranks about the group’s finances.

“He told me what he did was his business.

“Something is seriously wrong,” he said. “I saw firsthand the dedication of the men and women who volunteered to stand these border watches, sometimes under very difficult circumstances, and proudly came to the conclusion that this is what America was all about. But a number of people I thought I could trust have since disappointed me.”

Mr. Gaddy said he did not know how much money the organization had collected, but said, “It would be a substantial sum.”

Keyes questions

Several other Minuteman members question why Mr. Keyes’ organization is involved in collecting MCDC donations, saying donations to the movement should be handled by the Minuteman leadership, who could be directly responsible for it.

Mr. Keyes has financially endorsed and supported the Minuteman organization as programs of Declaration Alliance and the Declaration Foundation, another Virginia-based charitable organization that he heads. He accused internal MCDC critics of being “decidedly racist and anti-Semitic,” saying they had been removed as members of the Minuteman organization.

“I personally applaud Chris Simcox for his diligent adherence to a rigorous standard that weeds out bigots from the upstanding, patriotic mainstream Americans who participate in the Minuteman citizens’ border watch effort that I am proud to support,” he said.

Mr. Keyes said that MCDC is in the process of applying to the IRS for nonprofit status and that those responsible are “adhering to all relevant federal regulations.” He called concerns over finances and accountability “groundless,” saying they were being “bandied about by members of anti-immigrant and racialist groups, and other unsavory fringe elements attempting to hijack the border security debate to further their individual agendas.”

He also said Declaration Alliance’s involvement with the Minuteman organization is based on his belief that border security is a fundamental issue affecting national security, sovereignty and public safety.

“I have wished to do all in my power to assist the Minutemen’s growth into a national civic movement as quickly as possible — as the public exposure of the lawless state of our southern border is a matter of utmost urgency,” he said, adding that his “organizational team has an established history of effective issues advocacy, grass-roots activism, political campaigning, financial accountability, regulatory compliance and fundraising.”

‘No acceptable answers’

Earlier this year, Vern Kilburn resigned as director of operations for the Minuteman’s northern Texas sector because of what he called “professional differences with the management and business practices” of the MCDC national headquarters.

In a letter of resignation, he said Mr. Simcox and other Minuteman leaders offered “no acceptable answers” to concerns that he had about the management, accountability, ownership and the distribution of money for the Texas operation, adding that they were unable to verify Texas’ share of the Minuteman donations.

Mr. Kilburn said that only two checks for $1,000 came from MCDC headquarters in October for the Texas operation and that other Minuteman leaders across the country “are having similar problems concerning money or the lack of.”

Although he resigned as director of operations, he said he sought to remain with MCDC to continuing his work with “like-minded patriots” but was fired by Mr. Simcox. He declined to expand on his letter, saying only he “pretty much had my fill of the Minuteman as far as Chris Simcox goes.”

Mr. Gaddy, Mr. Cole and Mr. Kilburn are among only a few Minuteman leaders and volunteers who have come forward publicly over questions about accountability. The vast majority declined to be identified for fear of hurting the movement.

“I have no interest in going on the record in this matter,” said one top MCDC leader who heads one of the organization’s most active groups. “I have a lot of the same questions and have never received answers that are satisfactory. I have been contemplating resigning for a number of reasons, and lack of public accountability is one of those reasons.”

Money for supplies?

Several Minuteman volunteers said questions concerning the group’s finances intensified during October when money promised by Mr. Simcox and others for food and supplies never reached the volunteers on the line.

Some of the MCDC leaders gathered at the time to discuss replacing Mr. Simcox but reached no consensus. At that meeting, attended by The Times, they said money promised for field operations was never delivered and questioned the role of “outsiders” with the Minuteman organization.

Mr. Simcox angrily denied the accusations, telling The Times that MCDC “spent probably about what we collected” on the border vigils to pay for and send supplies to the volunteers on both the Mexican and Canadian borders.

In the statement, he said volunteers were provided satellite phones, radios, repeaters, antennae, batteries, flashlights, maps, porta-potties, thermal imaging cameras, video cameras, third-generation night-vision cameras and computer systems. It also said MCDC money was used to buy water, Gatorade, snacks, tents, canopies and the cost of printing letters, postage, brochures and banners used at gun shows, parades and recruiting events.

“These people were willing to volunteer their time to come to the border, some at great expense, and they deserved to have the proper equipment in the field,” he told The Times. “That is exactly what we did.”

But Mr. Gaddy, who left the Minuteman organization last year after serving as director of operations for New Mexico, said that if Mr. Simcox spent “probably about what we collected” to purchase necessary field equipment and supplies for the volunteers on the border, he didn’t see any of it.

“An awful lot of the equipment I saw was donated,” he said.

Some Minuteman volunteers also said food was sent by the organization to some border sites, but it was not free. Others also have sought an accounting of the income MCDC has received through the sale off its Web page of hats, caps, T-shirts, wristbands, decals, bumper stickers, dog tags, license-plate holders and figurines.

Fenced out

Even Mr. Simcox’s much-ballyhooed fence project on the Arizona-Mexico border has come under fire, from both within and outside the MCDC organization. Critics said vast sums of money are being collected to build what has been described as an Israeli-style fence to keep out illegal aliens, but all that has been constructed is three miles of a five-strand barb-wired range fence on 2-inch metal poles.

One former Minuteman volunteer said the fence “wouldn’t stop a tricycle.”

Mr. Simcox also dismissed the fence criticism, calling it “unfounded” and a product of “those who want to destroy us and the movement.” In the statement, he said he hopes to raise $55 million for the fence and build a double-layered, 14-foot-high barrier “as funds become available.”

“We are staying on task, and they can take their intentions of destroying the greatest citizen movement to save the Republic this country has seen in recent history and hike it,” it said.

Mr. Simcox also said he does not receive a salary from MCDC, but “otherwise, it is no one’s business” how he earns a living. In the statement, he said the “hours of toil and sacrifice necessary to run this national organization” had taken a toll on his personal life and led to his sale of the Tombstone Tumbleweed newspaper in Arizona, where he was owner and publisher.

“My present source of income has been the honorariums and fees received from organizations who request me for speaking engagements,” it said. “I have also received money from selling my life story for a movie that will soon go into production. Even with those combined sources of income, I have made just enough to keep my head above water.”

A former kindergarten teacher, Mr. Simcox said in the statement that he will request “a modest salary to maintain my role as president of MCDC,” and if the Minuteman board and national directors do not agree, “it will be necessary for me to leave the organization and return to teaching — or I may need to go get a job at Wal-Mart or Home Depot.”

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