Wounded Warrior Project execs ousted

Investigative reports raise questions about charity's spending, culture

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter
© LAKANA

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two Wounded Warrior Project executives have been fired by the Jacksonville-based charity's Board of Directors, according to reports from CBS News.

WJXT attempted to confirm the firings independently, but a spokesman for the board of directors was in a meeting.

The announcement Thursday came after a six-week independent review of the charity’s finances and culture following News4Jax and national investigations.

The ousted executives are CEO Steven Nardizzi and Chief Operating Officer Al Giordano. They are two of the members of the executive team making up the core leadership of the nation’s largest veterans charity, which brought in $350 million in donations in 2014, according to the nonprofit’s most-recently audited financial statements.

Sources connected to the WWP board said several elements in the News4Jax investigative reports were heavily considered in the board's decision, including two lawsuits filed against Wounded Warrior Project employees and injured veterans, employee yearbooks, a major donor pulling his support, and Silva taking to social media to call the allegations and subsequent review “bull****.”

According to the nonprofit’s website, the charity has 18 officers and executive vice presidents.

News4Jax first began investigating the possibility of a culture of fear and questionable spending at the charity in early January. We spoke with seven former employees, who all relayed stories of wasteful spending at employee training events and unnecessary office parties.

News4Jax is getting reaction from one of those former employees, and this article will be updated once that interview is complete.

Former employees also questioned the group's practice of printing expensive annual yearbooks for its staff that cost more than $20,000 a year.

Charity Navigator, an independent charity oversight group, examined Wounded Warrior Project's financial filings with the IRS and found just under 60 percent of all donations go back into veterans' programs.

Another charity watchdog, Charity Watch, used a different financial resource, Wounded Warrior Project's independently audited financial statements, and found just 54 percent of donations went to veterans.

Wounded Warrior Project disputes both ratings on social media, saying 80 percent of spending goes back into programs for services.

Since the allegations surfaced, Charity Navigator placed WWP on its Watch List as an alert for donors. Before doing so, Charity Navigator's committee gave WWP two days to respond, but never heard from the organization.

The Patriots Initiative, a California-based charity that grades military charities, also downgraded WWP and removed the charity from its list of efficient and transparent charities.

Adam Silva, the charity's chief programs officer, spoke out about the investigative reports on his social media pages, referring to the controversy as "heavy bulls***."

One Facebook post, made two days after the investigative reports in January, read:

“Disclaimer: 'Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth.'  ... This week many who love me asked, 'how you holding up?' My response: God blessed me with the honor and responsibility of leading the baddest f'ing non-profit program team IN THE WORLD for the baddest f'ing Veterans Service Organization IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY. I'd say I'm 'holding up' pretty well.”

In response to the local and national stories about the questionable spending practices, the WWP board of directors, made up of six men, issued a statement, saying "the Board takes very seriously the concerns that have been raised" and promising a full financial and policy review.

That review ended Thursday with the firing of the two executives, who made more than $890,000 in salary and bonuses between them.

Nardizzi was paid $473,000 in salary and $23,000 in bonuses. Giordano made $369,000 in salary and $28,000 in bonuses.

Of the six WWP board members, four are veterans and two were injured in combat. Most of the board members are based in the Northeast. One is an executive vice president for CBS corporation. Another worked with General Electric and Home Depot.

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