by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:
SNELLVILLE, Ga. - The Veterans Support Organization shut down its entire Georgia operation.
This week, Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh heard from a former employee who said that two weeks ago the VSO shut down its Snellville-based solicitation program and its transitional home also in Snellville.
The VSO hired veterans and non-veterans to solicit bucket drop donations at strip malls and shopping centers. They called it their work program and said they paid veterans minimum wage plus a portion of what they collected.
"They told us to up-sell. You know, instead of getting a dollar, get five, get 10, get 20," said former VSO worker Ralph Hiers. "You had to be willing to say whatever."
In March, Hiers said he felt like VSO used him to play on people's sympathies.
"We were the bait," he said. "We were glorified panhandlers."
The VSO's practices and claims triggered investigations Tennessee, and Florida.
Charity watchdogs criticized the notion that the VSO work program is any type of charity.
After seeing Channel 2 Action News' reports, the Georgia Secretary of State opened their own investigation in March.
The investigation continues today, even though the VSO left town two weeks ago.
A former VSO employee said they received no notice.
Neighboring businesses said the group left their Snellville office overnight.
Kavanaugh called the VSO at their Florida headquarters.
Spokesperson Justin Wells
did not want to answer any questions, saying their official comment was "don't call me again."
The worker also told Kavanaugh at the time the VSO shut down in Georgia, six veterans were paying the VSO to live in the Snellville transitional home. It's unclear how many Georgia veterans were working for the VSO at the time.
The Secretary of State's office told Kavanaugh they have no taken no action against the VSO, but could if the investigation warrants it.