(LOS ANGELES) — A leading actor from the television drama CSI is walking away from a charity she endorsed after learning the charity is accused of using millions of dollars in donations to fund golf club memberships and big salaries and pensions for its top officials.
Marg Helgenberger, who until earlier this year played Catherine Willows on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, is featured in a video on the website for Help Hospitalized Veterans making an appeal for donations to help “HHV continue to provide many of their wonderful programs.”
But Helgenberger said through her publicist Monday that until she was contacted by ABC News, she had no idea HHV had become the target of a civil suit filed by a California attorney general who accused the charity of using less than half of the money it receives to actually help veterans.
“Who would do that? That’s terrible,” Helgenberger said when she learned of the charges, according to her publicist. The publicist said the actor will request the charity take down the video immediately and will take legal action if it isn’t.
Also Monday former president George W. Bush and former Senator Bob Dole denied they had endorsed the troubled charity, despite prominent photos of the politicians with HHV officials also featured on the website.
California attorney general Kamala Harris told ABC News HHV has been taking advantage of patriotic Americans.
“The people that we have charged in this complaint have been so outrageous in their greed and their self-serving practices and it is one of the most outrageous cases we’ve seen,” Harris said.
ABC News first reported on questions about the HHV in 2007. Then, the charity’s founder, Roger Chapin, cancelled a scheduled interview with ABC News and fled the building. When called before Congress a few months later, Chapin defended using money meant for veterans to pay golf club dues.
“I think it was entirely appropriate,” he said. “The board plays golf when they come to meetings out there.”
Bob Dole told ABC News he thought the HHV charity “looked like a good organization” when he was first introduced to it years ago, but said at the time he, “didn’t know how they were spending their money.”
After he learned more, Dole said that he was the one that pushed Congress to call for Chapin to testify, but said even that “never slowed [Chapin] down.”
“Veterans are always #1, but if you raise funds for disabled veterans, firemen or policemen, you will almost always get a good response from the general public,” the former presidential hopeful said in an e-mail. “This is exactly what Roger Chapin has done through his false organizations.”
Chapin, who retired after the Congressional testimony, declined to answer questions about the new lawsuit, citing a personal illness. The charity’s current president and CEO, Mike Lynch, also declined to comment for this report.
According to a new report by a charity watchdog, of 46 veterans charities rated by CharityWatch, 23 of them, including Help Hospitalized Veterans, received an “F” grade — meaning CharityWatch believes the charity’s performance is “poor” based on several criteria including what percentage of donations go directly to veterans.
But it is not uncommon for authorities to take years to catch up with even the most outrageous ones.
Bobby Thompson, the founder of the so-called U.S. Navy Veterans Association, is currently facing federal criminal charges after he used ties to prominent politicians to raise more than $100 million. Authorities said that 99 percent of that money is still unaccounted for.
But there are many veterans charities which officials say are totally legitimate and receive “A” ratings or better from charity watchdog groups.
Here are some, according to CharityWatch.org:
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Madison Park, Keith Allen and Andreas Preuss, CNN
Ralph Ellis, Randi Kaye and Dakin Andone, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN