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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Minkler honors and recognizes efforts by local law enforcement.

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Indiana
Each Individual Played a Major Role in the Prosecution of Fraudsters Who Ran Bogus Fundraising Efforts for Wounded Military Veterans

     NEW ALBANY - United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler plans to award the Office’s most prestigious award to three local law enforcement officers for their exemplary work in a federal investigation. U.S. Secret Service Senior Special Agent John Ely, Clark County Sheriff’s Office Major Donnie Bowyer, and U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Jeff Ehringer will each be honored with a United States Attorney’s Award for their work in the investigation and prosecution of four individuals who stole over $125,000 in an elaborate fraud scheme posing as fundraisers for America’s veterans and their families. The ceremony and press conference will take place at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office on May 30, 2019, at 3:30 p.m. (ET).

     Joanie Watson and Amy Bennett are scheduled for change of plea and sentencing hearings on May 30, 2019, at 10:15 a.m. (ET) and 1:00 p.m. (ET), respectively, at the United States Courthouse, 121 W. Spring Street, New Albany, Indiana. A petition to enter plea of guilty and plea agreement has been filed with the Court for each defendant. James Linville and Thomas Johnson were sentenced on May 29, 2019 to a term of imprisonment of 60 months and 36 months, respectively.   

     “On Memorial Day weekend we reflect on the sacrifices veterans and their families have made for this country,” said Minkler. “These fraudsters eroded the trust and good will of those who want to donate to legitimate fundraising organizations that support our veterans. Our veterans deserve better than having donations misdirected into the pockets of thieves.” 

     The conspiracy was led by Linville who filed paperwork with the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office to form the Wounded Warrior Fund, Inc. and the Wounded Warrior Foundation, Inc. in a scheme to solicit donations from individuals and businesses residing in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. Linville and Johnson contacted businesses and individuals around the Midwest in an attempt to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Fund and the Wounded Warrior Foundation accounts by stating the funds were for veterans and their families. They solicited funds by telephone, facsimile and in person; many individuals were led to believe they were donating to the nationally renowned Wounded Warrior Project.

     Linville and Johnson used the aliases of “Sergeant Bob Johnson” and “Paul Bradley” when making the solicitations. By using aliases, they masked their true identity and in many cases misled the donors into believing they were being solicited by a former military member thus adding to their credibility. In one scheme, the defendants solicited for donations to purchase overseas calling cards and in another, they requested school supplies for active duty military families. Bennett and Watson would pick up checks and other donations made by individuals and businesses who intended to donate to veterans and their families.  Donations made to these programs and similar fictitious campaigns for veterans were not distributed to veterans and their families; instead, the donations were used by members of the conspiracy for their personal benefit.

     Throughout the conspiracy, the defendants collected donations from over 1000 individuals and businesses totaling over $125,000 in cash, gift cards, merchandise and in-kind donations. 

     The United States Secret Service and the Clark County Sheriff’s Department investigated this case.

     “The Secret Service is committed to combatting financial crime, but specifically in a case where our Wounded Warriors were exploited,” said Special Agent in Charge of the Louisville Field Office Richard Ferretti. “I’m especially proud of Senior Special Agent John Ely for his dedication to a case of such high importance not just to the Secret Service but to the American people.”

     “I’m very pleased with the cooperation between the United States Secret Service and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office during this investigation,” said Sheriff Jamey Noel. “We will continue to use any resource and exhaust every means necessary to investigate and arrest criminals who are defrauding and exploiting innocent citizens of our community, especially our veterans.”

     “It is one of my greatest professional privileges to work with Indiana law enforcement officers,” said Minkler. “I am deeply humbled when I think of the sacrifices and skills these dedicated professionals demonstrate day after day. We established the United States Attorney’s Award for truly exceptional work done in the Southern Indiana district. I can think of nothing more deserving than these recipients who exhibited the highest ethical and professional standards while working to ensure the legitimacy of programs intended for veterans and their families.  Because of their outstanding work, this district will receive a message loud and clear: those who take advantage of our veterans and those who wish to donate to them will face severe consequences.”  

     The United States Attorney’s Office recognizes the exemplary efforts of local law enforcement officers through USAO Awards that are announced and distributed within the respective communities in the district.

Updated May 30, 2019