Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaida, many Americans felt a strong desire to support the American military, federal, state and local law enforcement officers, and members of the intelligence community. The Iraq invasion by U.S. troops added to that desire to help those fighting on the frontlines of the war on terrorism.
And so the American people, even during the economic recession, gave their hard-earned money to organizations such as Wounded Warrior, the American Police Hall of Fame, and other legitimate charities that made certain the bulk of the money raised actually went to those military and police families in need who lost their loved ones or had to care for those loved ones seriously wounded in combat.
However, one charity that appeared to be a helpful and patriotic cause sounded like a wonderful charity. The organization advertised that it would send military families on Disney vacations or they promised to pay travel costs for families to see their loved ones graduate from Marine Corps boot camp in South Carolina and California.
Unfortunately, the charity known as “Marines and Mickey” (Mickey Mouse) was a façade that hid the swindle by fraudster John Shannon Simpson that was used to enrich himself.
Thanks to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI, Simpson is now calling a prison cell his home.
“Simpson presented himself as a retired master sergeant in the Marines, and people believed him. They had no reason to question a U.S. Marine,” said Special Agent Tiffany Baker, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s field office.
To begin with, Simpson held a lower-level rank than he claimed, and he was court-martialed for going AWOL.
It was Simpson’s claims of being associated with the Marine Corps that gave him credibility, and donors gave nearly half a million dollars to his charity from its founding in 2014 until 2016 he was discovered to be a fraudster.
One example of his con-game is when Simpson befriended a Gold Star mother who had lost her son in a shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2015. Simpson and the Gold Star mother collaborated on fundraisers for Marines and Mickey.
People who knew the mother became suspicious of the “charity” and dug into Simpson’s military record. A friend of grieving mother contacted the FBI, who began checking out the Simpson charity.
While the purported charity claimed that 100 percent of funds were directed to help military families, investigators found that less than 20 percent of the donations were actually used for that purpose. Most of the money was simply pocketed for Simpson’s daily living expenses.
“Simpson even hosted a fundraiser that was to send a Marine’s child who was sick with cancer to Disney,” Special Agent Baker said. “In fact, he did not direct any money toward that family.”
But Simpson was an experienced confidence man (conman), and for a long time, no one, including his volunteer staff, had any reason to question his military record or how he was spending the money he had raised.
“It’s such an affront to the Marine Corps values that someone had the audacity to take advantage of their service members for financial gain—while pretending to have those same military values himself when he did not,” Agent Baker noted.
Eventually, Simpson pleaded guilty to wire fraud in April 2019 and was sentenced to four years in prison in July 2019.
Baker emphasized the importance of donors investigating charities before they contribute. Legitimate organizations are transparent about how much they take in, what their operating costs are, and who benefits from their work. The Federal Trade Commission also offers tips on giving wisely.
“You can’t go wrong by donating to charities such as the American Cancer Society, the Wound Warriors Project, United Way, Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and other well-known and well-respected organizations,” said Gloria Feldman, a fundraiser for a police family charity.