New charity, same Gibbs? Questions abound about ties to ex-SCAP leader

jnsbranti@modbee.comAugust 25, 2012 

Its name sounds the same and its legal documents are suspiciously similar, but a new Modesto nonprofit group has denied any connection to organizations run by Joe Gibbs or programs operated by the controversial charity formerly called SCAP.

Home of the Brave USA was formed in June, purportedly to help homeless veterans. Its organizers have been running it out of the Modesto complex called Home of the Brave, which the Stanislaus Community Assistance Project opened last year on D Street.

Home of the Brave USA has no legal ties to SCAP's Home of the Brave, but the new group has tried to position itself to take over nearly $1 million in federal grants earmarked for SCAP.

Two men, who previously worked with Gibbs on SCAP's program for homeless vets, began soliciting donations for their new charity this month, telling potential contributors about plans to place homeless veterans in Kerr Barracks.

They mailed out about 700 brochures and donor packets, seeking sponsors willing to contribute $10,000 each to renovate small houses on Kerr Avenue in Modesto's airport neighborhood.

Those brochures got people's attention, but not in the way the organization had wanted.

They sparked complaints that the organizers had distributed misleading promotional materials, concerns about one of the group's leaders being a registered sex offender, suspicions about their connection to Gibbs and doubts about whether their new charity could be trusted.

The Bee began probing into the organization and questioning its leaders last week. By Thursday, the group reportedly had folded and Kerr Barracks was in limbo.

Home of the Brave USA's executive director and president, O.W. "Sarge" Mace of Modesto, resigned Aug. 16 after word spread about his conviction for lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. He said his crime occurred about 19 years ago.

Vice President David Mills of Fairfield also resigned Aug. 16, citing concerns about Mace.

Treasurer Richard Gaytan of Newman said he was told Thursday the organization had disbanded, and he was figuring out what to do with its bank account and funds. He, too, tried to resign via an e-mail sent to other directors Aug. 16.

Secretary A.J. Napolis reportedly told fellow directors in the past week he had quit the organization, but indicated Thursday night he remained on the board.

Napolis, who previously worked for SCAP but and now is unemployed, told The Bee on Wednesday that he was committed to continuing Home of the Brave USA but he said he has been volunteering with Home of the Brave USA for four months. Napolis said he is a grant writer who planned to pursue “every grant opportunity that can bring money to this organization.”

Snagging grants

Joe Gibbs was a master at writing grant applications for SCAP, where his wife, Denise Gibbs, was the executive director. From 2004 through 2010, SCAP collected more than $20 million in government grants for housing and other programs.

The Gibbses were generously rewarded for their efforts. During the 2009-10 fiscal year alone, Joe Gibbs' compensation package was worth $627,331. Denise Gibbs made $85,000 in the same time period.

SCAP fired the couple in December after questionable spending practices were discovered and the FBI raided the nonprofit's office and the Gibbses' Riverbank home. No criminal charges have been filed.

But SCAP's new management team, which changed the nonprofit's name to Community Impact Central Valley, is concerned about Joe Gibbs possibly using other nonprofits to tap into taxpayer funds and charitable donations.

Gibbs last year created a nonprofit called Echo Haven that reportedly garnered nearly $506,000 in donations during its first year. There's no public record of how that money has been spent or who has benefited from it. In documents filed with the IRS, Echo Haven said it would provide transitional and permanent housing to homeless people in Modesto and surrounding areas.

Before it could collect those contributions, Echo Haven had to secure its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service. That required submitting more than 20 pages of documentation explaining the charity's purpose and specific plans for spending the money it collects.

Gibbs filed those IRS documents in January 2011 while he was serving time on home detention for a vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run conviction.

This spring, Home of the Brave USA submitted virtually identical information, including a financial statement, to the IRS. About the only thing different from Echo Haven's application was Home of the Brave USA's name and the listing of Mace as its leader.

When The Bee asked Mace and Napolis about the connection between Home of the Brave USA and Joe Gibbs, they initially denied there was one.

Mace said someone — he couldn't remember who — suggested he use the services offered by a particular Web site to prepare his nonprofit's IRS documents.

"They did everything A to Z. We didn't have to do anything. That was the beauty of it," Mace said of that service. "They sent us a package and said: Sign here. And I did."

According to those IRS documents, Floyd Green Jr. of Atlanta represented Home of the Brave USA. Green is the same person Joe Gibbs used in setting up Echo Haven.

Gibbs acknowledged recommending Green's firm to Mace.

"I referred them to the company used to incorporate Echo Haven … and informed that company they (Home of the Brave USA) wanted to do basically the same thing as Echo Haven, except they would be working only with veterans," Gibbs wrote Thursday in an e-mail to The Bee.

Gibbs said he had worked with Mace and Napolis during 2011, noting, "They were instrumental in establishing and maintaining the programming for the combat vets at (SCAP's) Home of the Brave on D Street."

Gibbs also confirmed he has "forwarded links to grant opportunities that were for veterans" to Home of the Brave USA and exchanged e-mails with its leaders.

"I personally have no affiliation with them, but would like to see them do well because they are addressing veteran housing and social-service issues critically needed in the valley," Gibbs said.

Connections?

Thomas Shanks, the new leader of Community Impact Central Valley, has concerns about Echo Haven and Home of the Brave USA.

Shanks said the FBI recently returned boxes of SCAP documents and computer files it had confiscated during the raids in December.

In that material, Shanks said, he has found numerous suspicious documents concerning Echo Haven. He said they include what he believes to be fraudulent documents in which SCAP's board of directors essentially encouraged banks to donate foreclosed houses to Echo Haven rather than to SCAP.

Proceeds from the sale of those bank-donated homes appear to be how Echo Haven has acquired much of its money.

Home of the Brave USA planned to get its funding, in part, from taxpayers.

"I think there are grant opportunities through HUD funds for housing homeless vets," Napolis told The Bee. He said there are grants previously awarded to SCAP that are not being used. "We would like to position ourselves to apply for those funds."

Shanks said his organization was awarded multiple grants last year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its Home of the Brave. Those grants are supposed to help chronically homeless vets, but his organization has yet to start those programs.

"When I added them up, the three grants' total came to a little under $1 million, to be awarded over three years," Shanks said. He said his nonprofit is confident it can meet the HUD deadlines to secure that funding and provide those services to veterans.

"It's a learning curve process for us," Shanks explained. "We're still going through all of these papers to understand what happened in the past at SCAP. … We continue to implement reforms and are trying to bring this agency into compliance."

Shanks said it doesn't help to have another nonprofit start using a confusingly similar name, like Home of the Brave USA. He said that not only did officers of that group operate without permission at his organization's Home of the Brave facility, but Napolis inappropriately listed that D Street address on fund-raising materials.

"By putting our address down there," Shanks said, "they were implying we were involved with their fund-raising efforts."

Shanks said Home of the Brave USA brochures also inappropriately took credit for helping people who actually were served by Community Impact Central Valley.

Other organizations listed as "collaborative partners" on those fund-raising brochures are distancing themselves from Home of the Brave USA.

"We were unaware our name was even in there," said Susan Albritton, co-founder and treasurer of Boots and Saddles, a therapeutic riding program that serves veterans. "They did not come to our board asking if they could use our name."

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 684 pulled its support about two weeks ago after learning about Mace's criminal background.

"We are totally separate from them at this time," said Billy Powell, business manager for Local 684. He said Mills, who had been the nonprofit's vice president, had worked for the IBEW, but the union severed ties with him last week for a different reason.

Vets already paying rent

Mace told The Bee his organization had collected about $3,000, plus about $350 in checks that had not yet been cashed.

“If nobody can see the good we’re doing, we should just shut it down,” Mace said.

Mace explained his intention in starting the charity was to help veterans. He thought one way to do that would be to rehabilitate the run-down 20-unit housing complex on Kerr Avenue. His organization recently leased that facility from its private landowner, and several veterans have moved in and started paying $400 a month in rent to Home of the Brave USA.

The idea of renovating small, affordable housing units for veterans is a good one, according to Phil White, a former Marine and Modesto advocate for veterans in need.

White said he was asked to get involved with Home of the Brave USA a couple of weeks ago, but he quickly determined "something was not right."

"Since being there, I've been cleaning house," said White, who is nearing completion of his business degree at California State University, Stanislaus. "I'm still trying to figure out what's going on with this place."

At one point last week, Napolis said White was the nonprofit's new chairman of the board. But the two men no longer are getting along, and White never formally joined the board.

White said he wishes another organization would consider taking over the Kerr Barracks project to provide badly needed housing for Modesto's homeless vets.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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