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Officials at Hanover-Based Veterans Charity Misused Funds, State Finds

  • Darryl Salls, of Enfield, N.H., left, and Mindy Paquette, of West Lebanon, N.H., director of operations for Project Vet Care, take a break from scraping layers of wallpaper off the walls of a home purchased by Project Vet Care in Hanover, N.H., on June 18, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Robert Chambers of Etna, N.H., on Feb. 2, 2010. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Business Writer
Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hanover — A Hanover nonprofit formed to aid military veterans has been put into receivership while its assets are being liquidated after state authorities determined that donations had been diverted by some of the people in charge for their personal use.

New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced on Thursday that certain directors of Project VetCare “have been removed” and that they, along with other individuals involved in the misuse of the organization’s money, have entered into an agreement “to have some of those funds restored.”

The investigation by the state’s Charitable Trusts Unit, which oversees charities in New Hampshire, uncovered “diversion of large sums of money for the benefit of the charity’s executive director, her family, an employee and some members of the board of directors,” the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon.

Danielle Goodwin, the former executive director, diverted money to pay for a vacation on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, a new heating system at her home on Kingsford Road in Hanover, as well as “stipend payments” to herself and her children and a loan to her son, according to the state’s investigation.

The investigation also found that the organization’s donations had been tapped to pay for a Toyota van for Project VetCare cofounder Robert Chambers as well as a stipend payment to his daughter. Funds also were used for a $47,000 loan to Gavin Goodwin, the husband of Danielle Goodwin and a Project VetCare director, according to the Attorney General Office’s preliminary report. There also was a loan of more than $2,100 to board member Dana Pirovane

“This charity was established to support the brave men and women who have served our country,” MacDonald said in a statement. “Some leaders of this charity enriched themselves at the expense of the veterans they were entrusted to help. ... It is a deeply disturbing breach of trust that funds raised in their name were instead diverted for a cruise vacation, household expenses and tens of thousands of dollars of improper loans to directors.”

Rumors about the five-year-old nonprofit began circulating within the Upper Valley’s nonprofit sector earlier this year when representatives from Project VetCare approached other nonprofits about buying a property on Lebanon Street originally acquired as a home for veterans attending Dartmouth College.

When it launched, Project VetCare, which operated out of a second-floor office on Hanover’s Main Street, attracted strong support from veterans in the Dartmouth community — several who either served on its board or volunteered time — as well as the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, which gave the organization a total of $880,000 in 2014 and 2015, according to filings with the IRS.

The Byrne Foundation bequests were among the largest gifts it made in each of those years.

According to its organizers, during its brief existence, Project VetCare aided hundreds of veterans from the Upper Valley and beyond who needed assistance in everything from accessing health benefits to fighting evictions and home foreclosures.

It purchased a rambling home in 2014 about a half mile from Dartmouth for $475,000. The Lebanon Street house was to serve as residence and retreat for veterans attending Dartmouth.

In 2014 and 2015, the nonprofit drew attention when it tried — unsuccessfully — to secure funding from the town at Town Meeting.

Danielle and Gavin Goodwin could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Chambers, reached by phone, declined to comment.

Pirovane did not respond by to a message sent via Facebook on Thursday night.

The Charitable Trusts Unit said it opened an investigation after receiving a tip in March 2016 from an unidentified source that Project VetCare had paid for oil deliveries and repairs to the Goodwins’ home. Investigators discovered that in addition to nearly $2,800 of Project VetCare funds being used for oil deliveries and repairs, about $24,600 had been used to install a new heating system and fuel deliveries.

Charitable Trusts Unit investigators said they disclosed the discovery of the misused funds to Chambers in a meeting in May 2016 and advised him that directors should “take action.”

In a conference call later that month between Charitable Trust Unit officials, Chambers and “three other directors,” the Project VetCare group in turn told investigators they had found that Goodwin had used the organization’s funds for the Florida vacation trip, according to the report.

At that point, Charitable Trust Unit investigators said they advised Chambers and the directors that the organization should hire a lawyer and accountant to further investigate Goodwin’s transactions. Officials said they also advised Chambers to place Goodwin on leave pending the investigation.

However, when the Project VetCare board met a few days later to vote on the Charitable Trusts Unit officials’ recommendations, a majority of the board — Chambers, Danielle Goodwin, Gavin Goodwin and Pirovane — voted against the moves, according to the report.

The three directors who voted in favor of the proposals to hire an attorney and accountant to further investigate Danielle Goodwin’s transactions — John Donovan, Andy Steele and Mark Parton — all resigned the following day, according to the report.

At the same board meeting, according to the report, Danielle Goodwin also disclosed that she had taken “stipends” in lieu of a salary from Project VetCare and that the nonprofit had made loans to two of its directors as well as a car loan of $15,000 to staff member Mindy Bergman.

Bergman did not respond to messages left on her voicemail.

“It came out also that Mr. Chambers had been receiving payment from PVC for helping the organization with its fundraising,” the preliminary report said. “None of these conflict-of-interest transactions had been approved by a vote of the board of directors, as required” by state regulations, according to the report.

Investigators also turned up the purchase of a second property by Project VetCare — a dilapidated, two-bedroom, one-bathroom residence at 273 Heater Road in Lebanon “in need of a complete rehab,” according to its listing a real estate websites.

Both the Hanover home and the Lebanon property recently were sold, according to real estate agent Carol Shepherd of CG Shepherd Realty of Grantham, whose firm listed the properties.

When Project VetCare officials declined to follow the advice of state investigators, the Charitable Trusts Unit filed a lawsuit in Grafton County Superior Court in June 2016, seeking a judge to force the removal of the nonprofit’s officers and directors and place the organization in the hands of a receiver.

The court granted the motion the same day.

As a result of settling the claims, the Charitable Trusts Unit has been receiving financial restitution from the principals who benefited from the transactions.

Based upon each individual’s ability to pay, Bergman has returned $10,000 on the $15,000 car loan; Pirovane has paid back in full $1,054; Gavin Goodwin has to date paid back nearly $16,700 of the $30,000 he is required to pay; Robert Chambers has fully repaid $11,500.

Danielle Goodwin is obligated to pay back $90,000 upon the sale of her Hanover home, which is listed for sale for $899,000. A sale is now “under contract,” according to the report.

The Attorney General’s Office’s preliminary report said that all proceeds generated from the sale of the Project VetCare’s properties, in addition to the money claimed through restitution, will be disbursed to an Upper Valley organizations serving veterans.

Thomas Donovan, director of the Charitable Trusts Unit, along with John Gilbert of Synchrony Advisors in Exeter, N.H., the organization’s receiver, will weigh the proposals and make a recommendation and submit to the court for approval.

“At that point, PVC will be dissolved,” the preliminary report said.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.