Thursday, May 24, 2007

The top leaders of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps have been terminated by the group’s president, Chris Simcox, for requesting a meeting to discuss a lack of financial accountability by the organization’s leadership.

The purge was ordered by Mr. Simcox, who came under fire last year over questions about how much money the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) had raised and where it had gone, and included several top lieutenants, most of whom have been with the organization since its April 2005 founding.

Those fired include Bob Wright, deputy executive director; Bill Irwin, national operations officer; Greg Thompson, national training coordinator; and Stacey O’Connell, Arizona state chapter director.

The four, along with a dozen MCDC state chapter leaders, had sought a May 19 meeting with Mr. Simcox in Phoenix over what they described as a “serious” lack of financial accountability. Many of them had signed loyalty pledges last year for Mr. Simcox when accusations of financial irregularities were first reported.

The MCDC is an organization of volunteers who set up observation posts along the U.S.-Mexico border to bring attention to rising illegal entry into the U.S. Although the amount of money it has raised through donations and other sources is not clear, its membership total is said to stand at about 4,000 — each of whom paid a $50 registration fee.

Many of the original members have left the organization to form separate groups, citing financial concerns and other leadership problems.

In a May 8 letter to Mr. Simcox, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, the group sought a May 19 meeting with the MCDC president, saying that financial information had to be turned over to local and state chapters. The letter said long-standing requests for the information have gone unanswered.

In the letter, the group — which described itself as the leadership committee — said MCDC chapters were not getting the tools and resources they had been promised and that reimbursements for ongoing out-of-pocket expenditures were not made in a timely manner, if at all.

In response, Mr. Simcox told Mr. Wright in a memo that the MCDC Board of Directors, which he heads, had not authorized the creation of a leadership committee; that any meeting it scheduled was not “sanctioned or approved” and that any business or actions it proposed violated the “chain of command.”

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, notified Mr. Wright, Mr. Irwin, Mr. Thompson and Mr. O’Connell that they were fired and warned the others that if they attended any meetings not approved by the board, they also would be terminated.

Mr. Simcox was not available yesterday, and his office did not respond to questions e-mailed to MCDC headquarters.

In a letter to “fellow Minutemen,” Mr. Wright said the firings would have a “devastating effect” on MCDC, adding that none of those terminated “have ever had their dedication questioned, or have ever brought even a hint of disgrace or scandal to your MCDC.”

“Each is a proven dedicated patriot who has always kept our mission foremost while fiercely protecting the integrity of the organization you and they have built,” he wrote. “What great crime was committed by this group to bring about the termination of half the national leadership and almost half of the state leadership?”

“I did not expect Chris to be happy about it, but neither I nor the state leaders anticipated the paranoia driven nightmare we were about to be plunged into,” he said.

In their letter to Mr. Simcox, the leadership committee accused Mr. Simcox of micromanaging the group, saying, “It appears to us that one person has complete control of the organization from financial, operational, new chapter development, leadership placement, media and public relations.”

The committee also asked for a “full explanation” of the relationship between MCDC and other groups, including a Herndon-based tax-exempt charitable organization known as Declaration Alliance, founded and chaired by former presidential candidate Alan Keyes. It also sought information on MCDC’s ties to the Declaration Alliance Minuteman Civil Defense Corps Political Action Committee, the donation-driven Minuteman Border Fence effort and “any other organization that MCDC has agreements with or intends on interacting with.”

In the letter, the committee also proposed that MCDC be restructured, adding that while Mr. Simcox could remain as president “with sole purpose of working our political arm and media/public relations,” he should not be involved in operations, chapter management or finances. It said the MCDC leadership had to be accountable to its volunteers.

Last year, many of the group’s most senior members also had questions about MCDC finances and why it was being funneled through Declaration Alliance, saying requests to Mr. Simcox for a financial accounting were ignored.

Gary Cole, MCDC’s former national director of operations, and Mike Gaddy, who helped organize the April 2005 border watch as field coordinator, were among the first to raise questions about finances. Both were fired.

In November, in its first Internal Revenue Service Form 990 filing as a 501(c)4 tax-exempt charitable trust, MCDC said it spent $450,000 in 2005 for volunteers to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, about $31,000 more than it collected in donations and registration fees — significantly less than the $1.6 million Mr. Simcox told The Times in July that the group had collected in donations since its April 2005 creation.

No other financial information has been made public or given to the MCDC membership.

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