Frank Roach admits he did a lot of things wrong. His financial disclosures were illegible and he failed to register the telemarketers working for his nonprofit company, among other hiccups.
But, Roach — the man who authorities allege intentionally kept donations, monetary and otherwise, to pay for his lifestyle and not “Boxes for Heroes” as he claimed — says his heart was in the right place.
His organization did what they said they’d do — send boxes to troops overseas. He and others sent hundreds of boxes during the past six years, he said in an interview with the Clarion.
“When this thing finally goes to court, our intentions will be examined. What were our intentions?” Roach said. “To give care packages to the troops, which is exactly what we did.”
Roach’s trial is set for Dec. 17 at the Kenai Courthouse, and the legal parties are establishing evidence needed to convict or exonerate him. No new details have emerged in the case’s court documents, but Roach argues only half the story, the rise and fall of Boxes, has been told to the public.
Roach took over the organization’s operations in April 2010. It claimed to be raising money to send care packages to deployed soldiers. Donations were received at retail stores from Wasilla to Homer and from telephone solicitations, according to the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions.
Employees were paid for providing services to the organization, such as managing stands in front of grocery stores. Roach used the remaining money, state prosecutors argued. Roach’s charges include scheme to defraud, first-degree theft and seven counts of second-degree theft.
An investigation led by Kenai Police Department Investigator Jeff Whannell claims “Boxes for Heroes” raised more than $140,000 in donations from April 2010 to October 2011. Roach allegedly used the money as his sole source of income and to pay for all his living expenses.
Roach was arraigned May 8 at the Kenai Courthouse. He posted $250 bail following an Aug. 12 bail hearing. He also sought to have the case’s venue moved due to local media coverage, but the court decided against the request.
During the prosecution’s timeframe, Boxes for Heroes conducted five events around Southcentral Alaska.
In June 2010, an event was held at the Soldotna Boys & Girls Club, and volunteers put together 150 care packages. In December 2010, organizers at the Wasilla Boys & Girls Club put together 850 packages. One week later at Kenai’s local Club, volunteers put together 300 packages. On Valentine’s Day 2011, under Frank’s direction, volunteers visited Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and handed out fruit baskets.
The items seized by the Kenai Police Department were collected during a four-month period from July to October 2010, Roach argues.
“There was some stuff from past drives like baby wipes ... but as far as the food items, those were fresh stuff collected in that short period; there was no way we were hoarding the stuff,” Roach said.
Roach noted the items recently released to Dave Carey’s nonprofit organization — The Red, White and Blue program — were allotted with his permission. As stated in an Aug. 17 affidavit, “The property would be released to Dave Carey ... per an agreement with Francis Roach through his attorney Chris Cyphers of the Alaska Public Defenders Agency.”
The items would have been wasted if he refused to release the evidence, Roach said.
“We had so much stuff left over one time, we donated four truckloads of stuff to a local church,” he said.
A total of four truckloads were donated to Kenai’s United Methodist Church after a successful 2010 Christmas drive, he said.
Court records filed by Investigator Whannell paint Roach’s collected items in another light, however.
The pages of an affidavit filed by the Police Department on July 2 are filled with pictures of items seized during the service of a search warrant on the nonprofit’s storage units.
The search warrants were served on Oct. 28, 2011 and resulted in the seizure of “three pickup truck loads” of consumable and perishable items with an estimated value of thousands of dollars. Also, about 50 grocery bags containing food, 45 boxes of other consumables and 25 cases of noodles were seized, according to the affidavit.
The picture of the boxes of noodles shows food packages stacked to shoulder height. Another picture shows three large black totes containing snacks and toiletries.
During the release of the property on Aug. 13, officers discovered an additional 90 flat rate U.S. Postal Service boxes containing snacks and toiletries. The boxes slump over in the faded picture of the affidavit.
Roach said the boxes’ shipment was under way. He also said the boxes were always sent through the U.S. National Guard’s Family Program, which offers assistance to service members across the county and overseas.
Since 2006 — when Roach concocted the idea for Boxes but operated under the Alaska Veterans Foundation — he, with the help of others, completed 18 care package drives.
“We always sent out the boxes the same way, from day one, through the National Guard,” he said.
As authorities wrapped up their case, Roach attempted to cut a $500 check for The Friends of the National Guard and Reserve, which provides financial assistance to family members of the Guard. The organization wouldn’t return Roach’s calls, possibly due to the approaching criminal charges.
Therein lies Roach’s second argument of innocence. Donations were never conveyed as a way to pay for postage, he said. He and the employees made clear the donations went toward the nonprofit’s own expenses.
Roach’s commission was 20 percent as founder and director of Boxes for Heroes. Telemarketers — who were unregistered, which is not a criminal offense but results in fines — received 25 to 40 percent of the donations collected; Roach argues the percentage is an industry standard. Drivers received 10 to 15 percent of the money collected. The rest went into the organization.
At one point, Roach had offices in the Mat-Su Valley, Soldotna and Kenai. The Valley’s office was closed due to lack of funds. Roach listed additional costs: printing, phones, transportation.
“It takes thousands of dollars a month to run this thing,” he said.
During the same 16-month period prosecutors are centering the case on, Roach made $36,000, he said. That amount is more than 20 percent of the $140,000 prosecutors have cited.
“The damage is done,” he said. “If people don’t want to donate to the program — fine. Don’t donate, man. Donate to a larger nonprofit where only six percent goes toward the cause.”
The Internal Revenue Service did not audit Boxes for Heroes during the Police Department’s investigation. The nonprofit is in compliance with the IRS’s 27-month rule. That is, new nonprofits have 27 months to submit a 501(c)3 form to the IRS. Roach said Boxes for Heroes, as an actually entity, had been around for 16 months before the authorities stepped in.
Investigating officers admit Roach was within industry standards. They handed down criminal charges, however.
“Basically, I didn’t keep good books,” Roach said. “Some of them are illegible; you can’t even read them. But the records are there, on the single credit card I used for Boxes for Heroes.
“It’s a witch-hunt. What’s stopping them from coming down on others for what they perceive as spending money the wrong way?”
His former employees planned a hostile takeover because they did not like how things were handled, he said.
“I’ll admit there are things I didn’t do right, OK?” Roach said. “I in no way, ever, schemed to defraud people.”
State prosecutors are attempting to try the corporation, Boxes for Heroes, separate from Roach, but no public defender agency has offered to handle the case.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.