Northport American Legion Post 694 is demanding an explanation of how up to $170,000 raised last year by a local nonprofit for the Wounded Warrior Project was spent -- vowing to block permits for another fundraiser this year unless a full accounting is made.
Rocco Donnino, a member of Cow Harbor Warriors, which is not formally affiliated with veterans, said the group last year raised about $164,000 to host a September weekend of sports competitions, food and fun for tri-state area veterans in the Wounded Warrior Project and their families. The Project provides programs and services to returning severely injured service members.
He said after deducting costs for the weekend's activities, management fees and fundraising expenses, the group was left with about $82,000. From that, it plans to give $50,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project for a handicapped-accessible van, but so far has not completed the transaction, Donnino said.
"It's been taking a long time within the Wounded Warrior Project," Donnino said. "Sometimes they don't get back to us for days and it's challenging, but that's where we are and we are going to get it done." Calls to the Wounded Warrior Project's offices in Manhattan seeking comment were not immediately returned.
The remaining money will help fund this year's event, Sept. 6 through 8, he said.
John Cooney, spokesman for Post 694, said its members have several questions including how much money was raised and where the money went, and are especially concerned that the $50,000 donation to the Wounded Warrior Project has not been completed. Cooney said he was originally told by the group $170,000 was raised. Donnino said the number is fluid because taxes for the Cow Harbor Warriors have yet to be filed.
Cooney said the legion post will recommend to the town and village that they not issue permits for this year's road race and beach access. "We're not interested in working anything out going forward, until we find out what happened to the money raised in 2012," Cooney said. "We're very worried that monies that were raised and supposed to be allocated to our wounded veterans have not gone there."
The complaints emerged in recent weeks in letters Post 694 sent to the Huntington Town Board and Village of Northport trustees criticizing the Cow Harbor Warriors over last year's event. The letters accuse the Cow Harbor Warriors of questionable accounting, lack of support for local veterans and discrimination against vets not in the Wounded Warrior Project.
Cooney said only wounded veterans registered with the Wounded Warrior Project, many of whom are not from the local community, benefit from event proceeds. Because most of the money was raised in the Northport community, he said, more should be earmarked for it.
After a meeting with members of Post 694 and the Cow Harbor Warriors hosted by town Supervisor Frank Petrone, Donnino said his group agreed to turn over financial spreadsheets for all of 2012, and donate 50 percent of net proceeds from this year's fundraising efforts to local organizations that aid wounded veterans. But he is concerned that bias could be involved in the permit decisions because members of the town veterans advisory committee, which is supposed to make a recommendation to the town board, are also members of Post 694, and that the post has "the ear" of the village board.
"I don't understand why the American Legion has to give the blessing for us to get our permits," Donnino said.
Northport Village Trustee Tom Kehoe said Post 694 is the "gold standard" locally when it comes veterans' affairs.