2 ousted executives defend work at Wounded Warrior Project

AP News
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Posted: Apr 10, 2016 1:05 PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Two men ousted from top executive positions at Wounded Warrior Project say their leadership upheld the intent of donors who contributed millions to one of the nation's largest veteran support groups.

Al Giordano and Steve Nardizzi want the Jacksonville-based charity's board of directors to publicly release the results of an independent review of its records.

The board announced late March 10 that Nardizzi was no longer chief executive officer and Giordano was out as chief operating officer. Amid news reports alleging wasteful spending, the board hired outside legal counsel and forensic accounting consultants for a records review.

The board has named retired Maj. Gen. Charlie Fletcher as interim chief operating officer and launched a national search for a new CEO.

Since their ouster, Nardizzi and Giordano have been defending their work in media interviews, op-ed pieces and posts on their blog, www.thewoundedtruth.com.

"The two most painful (allegations) are that somehow we're not treating donor dollars appropriately and that we're not taking care of warriors," Nardizzi told The Florida Times-Union (http://bit.ly/1YnaGF4) in an interview. "For me, watching the news reports, those were the most personally painful allegations, and obviously untrue."

In a statement Friday, the board said the independent review's findings were submitted orally and summarized in the March 10 announcement, and there was no written report to be released.

"The board continues to implement changes that will move the organization forward and do everything necessary to support the thousands of men and women who rely on WWP on a daily basis," the statement said.

Former Marine John Melia launched Wounded Warrior Project in 2003 and later recruited Giordano, a longtime friend, and Nardizzi, a lawyer who never served in the military, to the charity. Melia left in 2009, and Nardizzi and Giordano were credited with subsequently building the organization into a major fundraiser.

Nardizzi said there were some things he should have done differently, such as not choosing a luxury resort in Colorado for an annual employee conference in 2014. He also regretted rappelling down the side of the resort during the opening night of the conference, an action caught on video.

"I would change that so you wouldn't have the ability to misportray that event as something that it wasn't," he said.

The board tallied the conference's costs at $970,000, instead of a reported $3 million, but still pledged to cut back on such events.

Complaints from employees, veterans and charity watchdogs about the organizations lavish spending emerged in reports by The New York Times and CBS News in January.

Nardizzi and Giordano said their fundraising is helping veterans cope with a variety of injuries, but headlines about the board's decision to fire them made it seem like the independent review had found serious wrongdoing.

"We understand that we work for the board of directors," Giordano said. "It's at-will. Jacksonville is a big Navy town. I'm sure you've heard in Navy speak 'loss of confidence in command,' and that's OK. But I think the way it was handled was poorly done."

The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance suspended its charity seal designation for Wounded Warrior after the board cut ties with Nardizzi and Giordano. Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer for the alliance, said it's seeking more information about the review and determining whether the nonprofit meets the BBB's standards.

The board said Friday its commitment to the alliance's standards "remains unchanged," and it also is cooperating with U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who has questioned the charity's spending practices.

Nardizzi, 45, and Giordano, 54, said they remain interested in serving veterans and supporting Wounded Warrior Project.

"I think WWP showed that if you can get some passionate, dedicated people to coalesce around an idea to really make a deep impact, it can happen," Giordano said.