B.J Altman began his own non-profit charity after discovering something was amiss with his boss’ organization, Boxes for Heroes. Unfortunately, its small staff is facing large hurdles.
“We call people up, and they say, ‘We’re not giving to anybody right now; that last guy really burned us,’” said B.J. Altman, chairman of the struggling Veterans Care Council and Roach’s former employee. “It’s residents, businesses … basically anybody who had given a donation to (Boxes for Heroes).”
Altman and his three-member board are finding it difficult to help troops in need having been associated with Frank Roach, a Kenai resident who was indicted in early May for allegedly gathering donations for troops and then using the money on personal expenses. Altman wants to right past wrongs and do more, he said.
Roach was operating Boxes for Heroes for a year before Altman was brought on board. Roach was loud and boisterous, Altman said.
“I figured I could tolerate a brash person and still be OK at my job” Altman said. “And I liked what we were doing, or what I thought we were doing.”
Vice president in title only, Altman delivered boxes and occasionally collected donations. After a year, he became suspicious of Roach’s business practices. The president of Boxes for Heroes wouldn’t allow anyone access into the organization’s bank account. He also allegedly dodged Altman at tax time. The former employee didn’t know how to report his taxes, he said.
The alleged fraudulent business practices became clear when Altman was asked to withdraw money from Roach’s bank account. Roach told Altman the account had an automatic division of funds — 50 percent for the program and 50 percent for expenses, Altman said.
Donations that day were slow, with only Altman collecting a small sum. Altman said Roach asked him to withdraw the same exact amount.
“Knowing he told me there was no money in his bank account the day before, and knowing how much I put in, he took all of it,” Altman said. “Then I knew (the automatic splitting in the account) wasn’t true.”
In July 2011, Roach was arrested for allegedly assaulting a neighbor. The case was dismissed, but Roach was sentenced to 90 days in jail for violating previous terms of probation he received for a second-degree theft charge.
During that time, Altman and the newly hired Chris Hinchman worked to establish Boxes as a legitimate non-profit. They were two weeks away from paying off all government fees and set up 10 tent-events in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula.
“And then they let Frank out,” Altman said.
Altercations between Roach and his two employees continued until they believed nothing more could be done and handed over evidence to local police, they said.
Kenai police interviewed Altman and Hinchman, and the investigation of KPD Investigator Jeff Whannel eventually led to the indictment of Roach.
The downfall of Roach’s alleged scheme left Altman feeling angry. He believed his motivations were well intentioned, only to find out he was being deceived, he said.
It wasn’t long until Altman applied for and was granted the non-profit name Veterans Care Council. It hasn’t been easy going, however.
Telemarketing has raised about $1,000 in a month while stores refuse to allow booths by their entrances, as they are afraid it’s another scam. The single, hired telemarketer donated the majority of his paycheck to the new non-profit.
Other social service organizations also are feeling the inadvertent sting of Roach’s defunct operation. Alaska Veterans Foundation, which supported Roach briefly, cooperated with the investigating law enforcement agencies about the claims against Roach, according to a Foundation statement.
The Foundation has advised law enforcement on multiple occasions — the last interview was this winter — that they are not affiliated with Roach and had no authority to imply otherwise.
“We often partner with groups that are trying to do some good things, and we try and be careful about it,” said Foundation Chairman Ric Davidge. “We’ve gotten bruised a couple of times; this is an example.”
Service organizations, in general, are good, but there are some that take advantage of veterans in need, he added.
Suffering from health and financial problems — he is currently homeless — Altman is fighting to keep his new non-profit afloat. Another board member or promotional partner would help, he said.
“We need someone who is educated in corporate bureaucracy to apply for grants,” he said. “Somebody who is good with people.
“I rather not just bow out. I really want to be part of this.”
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.