Man who runs Ga. chapter of veterans group is convicted felon

by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:

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GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. —

Channel 2 Action News continues to investigate a veterans' organization asking for your money all across Georgia.

Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh first reported Monday that the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) collects millions of dollars a year, but only donates a small percentage to veterans.

Kavanaugh also reported that the man handling all the money collected in Georgia is a convicted felon.

The VSO asks for donations year round. The soliciting is what the organization calls its "work program."

They claim it gives once homeless veterans, like Marvin Calhoun, a second chance.

"I don't know quite where I'd be at right now," Calhoun told Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh discovered some VSO solicitors never spent a day in the military, yet benefit off your donations.

Daniel Borochoff, president of the watchdog group CharityWatch, said that's misleading the public. He spoke to Kavanaugh from Chicago.

"If you really care about the veterans, you want your money to actually go and help them," he said.

Kavanaugh learned donations pay for Jon Gravely's salary. Gravely runs the Georgia Chapter and handles every dollar that is donated.

Records show Gravely is a convicted felon.

Kavanaugh found multiple arrests in Florida between 2005 and 2007, including felony possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

She also asked the VSO about a felon handling cash donations and a representative emailed her a statement from their president and CEO, Richard VanHouten, saying, "Jon Gravely is a VSO success story who turned his life around through VSO and is now leading one of our strongest chapters. A key mission of The Veterans Support Organization is to provide struggling and homeless individuals a second opportunity to get back on their feet with a steady job, transitional housing and faithful support."

"They're playing on the sympathies of the American public that wants to help the poor GI," said Charlie Tucker with the local American Legion. He believes this program exploits people who give and the veterans themselves.

"You're not training me to do anything but be a panhandler," Tucker said.

Gravely defends the program, saying the alternative for many of the workers is life on the street.

"They're paid minimum wage with a bonus structure. Once they reach a certain dollar amount, they get into the bonus money," Gravely said.

The VSO told Kavanaugh it works with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VFW, the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans.

All four groups told Channel 2 Action News they do not work with or support the VSO.

Kavanaugh confirmed their soliciting triggered a federal investigation.

Records show the group has paid fines in Florida and Tennessee, where it was accused of making false claims.

Originally Channel 2 Action News was told by the Georgia Secretary of State that the VSO was not properly registered as a charity. Channel 2 has learned the group is registered as a charity in the state of Georgia.