One thing us Slabbers learned in the aftermath of Katrina is the astonishing number of various and sundry grifters, scammers, fraudsters and old fashioned crooks that blow into town after a major storm, or, in the case of Dollar Bill Jefferson ramp up the family crime ring to include skimming post Hurricane charity.
But we’ve also been blessed with a much larger group of people in the multitude of volunteers that came here from every corner of the country and others like my fellow Mississippian Nowdy, who was asked to come here and who answered the call staying several months in Katrina ground zero away from her family.
This topic has been forced on us today because the scammers that set up and ran Camp Coastal are in the news and it makes my stomach turn. Not only did they fail people in need here at Ground Zero they fleeced the people who opened their hearts and wallets to help the less fortunate who lost to Katrina’s wind and waves. We can only hope a lengthy trip to the Graybar Hotel is in their future. WLOX has the story:
WLOX News began getting complaints about Camp Coastal in Hancock County early this year. As Action Reporter A.J. Giardina investigated the claims, he found the Secretary of State, which regulates Mississippi charities, was also checking into claims that Camp Coastal’s directors were using some of the millions donated to rebuild homes for large salaries and expensive trips. In an exclusive interview, the Secretary of State told A.J. that Camp Coastal is out of business and the search is on for the missing money.
For nearly three years, Camp Coastal Outpost on Highway 603 in the Kiln raised money and coordinated volunteer labor to rebuild homes in Hancock County and South Lousisiana.
Though Camp Coastal billed itself as a charity, Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman says it was never registered with his office.
“It received a significant amount of money. In the five million dollar range we believe, from various sources from the United States and from around the world to help citizens in Mississippi get back on their feet and rebuild their homes,” Hoseman said.
Hoseman says his office has spent months investigating complaints that Camp Coastal Director Mike Sweeney and his assistant Sandy Molenhouse were misusing funds.
“As we looked into the books and records over the last two years, we find that approximately $270,914 dollars was used as personal salaries to two individuals in Camp Coastal. Their personal transactions involved in this account, approxmiately $131,016. And we had travel and marine of approxmmiately $83,000,” Hoseman said. “These included trips to Belize and the Bahamas, on cruise lines everything from bar bills to individual nail shops. The total is approxmiately a half-a-million dollars spent of money that was donated.” (See below for detailed spending)
WLOX News reported on several of the building projects started by Camp Coastal, but Hoseman says his office hasn’t been able to get an accurate count of how many houses Camp Coastal actually built.
“Some of that was obviously used for that purpose, but a good bit was not,” Hoseman said.
The Camp Coastal Outpost on Highway 603 in the Kiln is empty now. Hoseman’s office issued an order on August 29th, the three year anniversary of Katrina, shutting down Camp Coastal’s operations and fundraising.
As for the people who ran Camp Coastal, Mike Sweeney and Sandy Molenhouse, the Secretary of State wants to hear their explanation of how close to a million and a half dollars was spent.
“In addition, because of the inability for us to accurately get records on these individuals we find about one-point-four million dollars that we’re finding unaccountable. That we’re unable to determine exactly where they are,” Hoseman said.
Hoseman says Mike Sweeny and Sandy Molenhouse have a right to a hearing which his office has asked them to schedule. He says if they don’t set up a hearing, his office will go forward in an attempt to collect the funds.
The secretary of state isn’t the only state agency investigating Camp Coastal. Hoseman told WLOX he has turned over his findings to the Attorney General.
Here is a partial list of Camp Coastal spending questioned by Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman. All information is contained in a Cease and Desist Order issued August 29, 2008.
From March 2006 to March 2008
“Multiple trips for cruise travel out of Miami, Florida, on Norwegian Cruise Lines; Carnival Cruise Lines; excursions to the Florida Keys, Belize, scuba diving in Cozumel, multiple boating excursions from the Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana coasts; and winter ski resort trips to Park City Utah.”
“Out-of-state travel to Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Illinois and other states. It is alleged that all of the travel funds described…. were for the personal use and benefit of Mike Sweeney and Sandy Molenhouse or authorized by Mike Sweeney and Sandy Molenhouse for others and not for any volunteers or charitable purpose.”
“Multiple restaurant meals, lawn care for Mike Sweeney, AFLAC insurance, COBRA insurance coverage for Sandy Molenhouse, nail care, out-of-state telephone bills and rental of a storage facility in Michigan for Sandy Molenhouse.”
$7,525.40 monthly salary each for Mike Sweeney & Sandy Molenhouse.
“No fewer than 18 vehicles… donated to Camp Coastal Outpost by various benefactors or purchased by donated funds were titled personally to Mike Sweeney, Sandy Moelenhouse or to relatives of Mike Sweeney.”