Florida VFW officer resigns amid sexual harassment allegations
National VFW takes action after state organization ‘failed to fully investigate’
A Veterans of Foreign Wars officer resigned his position under protest last week following mounting pressure from four female auxiliary members of the Florida VFW who accused him of repeated sexual misconduct.
Eugene “Gene” Perrino, Sr. resigned as state VFW Quartermaster on Feb. 18 but denied any wrongdoing.
Perrino, based in Ocala, stepped down the day before his accusers met with News 6 to present their allegations.
An investigation launched by the national VFW’s general counsel, John Muckelbauer, found the allegations by Sharon Beam, Pam Lotman, Teresa Bachand and Tela Harbold to be “very credible.”
The women alleged Perrino, a decorated veteran, made unwanted sexual advances towards them between 2012 and 2019.
In an email to his superiors, Perrino wrote, in part: ”Let me be very clear here: I did not resign because I am guilty at all. I am not guilty of anything. I did it to save my commander and keep this department moving.”
Muckelbauer, a respected attorney and Marine Corps veteran, told News 6 the state’s VFW administrators “failed to fully investigate“ the charges.
Documents obtained by News 6 found the state’s preliminary investigation into the allegations ranging from unwanted kissing, touching and suggestive language stalled without a final decision.
Once the national organization was made aware of the allegations, Muckelbauer said the organization sent him to Ocala to investigate.
The women contacted News 6 after the VFW’s Commander in Chief, William “Doc” Schmitz, reviewed Muckelbauer’s findings and ordered Perrino to attend sexual harassment classes at the national headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.
The women say they are breaking their silence because, in their view, the penalty does not fit the alleged sexual misconduct charges.
Muckelbauer told News 6 the penalty “does not reflect” the organization’s position on sexual harassment but that each case is different.
“We have zero tolerance for sexual harassment,” he said.
Muckelbauer issued the following statement in regards to the lenient penalty by national leadership:
"The Commander-in-Chief, as the initiating officer, has sole discretion to determine the action he deems appropriate, which could include termination of membership. He reviewed the investigative report and took the action he deemed appropriate based on his view of the facts and circumstances of the case.”
Muckelbauer left the question of permanent dismissal in the hands of the state organization.
“The state VFW in Florida now needs to determine his (Perrino’s) ultimate fate, which is where this should have been handled all along,” he wrote.
State VFW officials, who oversee an estimated 51,000 veterans and 35,000 auxiliary members, have remained silent on the allegations against Perrino.
Beam, whose father was wounded and died of medical complications in the Vietnam War, said Perrino constantly crossed the line, yet the state VFW never took action.
She told News 6 because Perrino still has his membership, he can run for his old job in June.
Perrino handled finances for all 171 VFW posts.
“I’m not going to get over it," Beam said. "I’m not going to let it go.”
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