Connecting the Dots? Shriners: Part 13
Wed Feb 21, 2007
Disclaimer: Some names have been omitted or changed to protect the innocent.
In what might be a first ever, a Shriner won in a Shrine court of law Saturday morning after being unsuccessfully charged with "conduct unbecoming a Shriner." The victorious Shriner had served a year as a temple leader or "Potentate" and had grown suspicious after noting that there were no cash deposits after weekly bingo games at the Decatur Shrine Club. Things grew worse after he reported the alleged crime up the Shrine chain of command three years ago and nothing was done. He was then contacted by a reporter from the New York Times who ran a story on November 7, 2006 entitled "Shriners Seize a Clubhouse in a Dispute Over $119,000."
The NYT story claimed that the Decatur Shrine Club had been seized after a corporate audit revealed that only half the proceeds from a weekly bingo game were sent to the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Shriner "law" states that 100% of the bingo proceeds should have been sent to the charity.
This victory is significant because those subjected to such a "trial" can't remember when, in the past ten years, such a Shrine court decision has been handed down.
A "Probable Cause Committee" had supposedly found enough evidence to try this past Potentate. The trial began at 9am on Saturday, February 17, 2007. At about noon, defendant's attorney presented a taped conversation that caused the judge/prosecutor, to declare that "we're trying the wrong man."
After this, an immediate attempt to appease the wrongly accused defendant began. As part of the settlement, the accused's legal fees were paid and in return, he signed a non-disclosure document specifying that he would not, among other things, discuss the case with the media.
"This is the first time in Shrine history, to my knowledge that an accused Shriner ever won in one of our trials" observed Reilly Rogers, who had been subjected to such a trial twelve years ago, back in 1995.
Rogers's story goes like this.
He had run against a past Potentate, who wanted to win the election at nearly any cost, including allegedly lying and defaming Rogers's good name. After he lost the election, Rogers was harassed by the newly elected past Potentate until he finally told him to "shut up" in December, 1994.
A month later, in January, 1995, Rogers made a motion that, if approved, would have saved the Temple money. The motion was properly seconded, discussed, voted on and was approved. After four months, the motion had yet to be enforced. After Rogers asked his Potentate about the cost-saving motion, he claims he was threatened and was told to shut up about it.
Four months later, in April, 1995, Rogers then wrote to Shriner Imperial Headquarters, sharing his concerns about the un-enforced motion.
According to Rogers, his Potentate retaliated against him for writing to the Imperial Council by converting the four month old "shut up" incident into a formal complaint, accusing him of "conduct unbecoming a Shriner."
Rogers's trial was held in August, 1995.
"Clearly," Rogers observed, "this was a dictatorial act by the Potentate to get even with me. I was found 'guilty of conduct unbecoming a Shriner due to provocation,' and was given a reprimand."
Rogers stood up to and rejected this decision by appealing directly to the Imperial Council. He countered the decision against him by submitting, in his appeal, eighteen documented violations of Shrine bylaws, allegedly committed at the temple level. Though the temple failed to provide evidence to support their conviction, the Grievance and Appeals Committee lock stepped to uphold Rogers's conviction.
The Chairman of Jurisprudence later commented to Rogers:
"This is the first time in the history of the Shrine of 112 years (at that time) a Noble appealed a reprimand to the Imperial level."
After the conviction was upheld by the Imperial Council, Rogers "demitted," which means his membership status became inactive. Rogers's letter to both the temple and the Imperial Council said:
"It is my opinion that the Appeals and Grievance Committee chaired by Miles Wyman does not know what Shrine law is all about and takes the 'dictatorial' position in resolving appeals. I defended the United States of America in the military for twenty one (21) years against dictators and tyrants. Now I find that I am in the midst of a dictatorship. Consequently, I will no longer allow a dictatorship to cause me to prostitute my time, services, morals or character under the façade of caring for the crippled and burned children. Therefore, under the provisions of Article 323.10 of the Bylaws, I hereby request a DEMIT from Suez Temple effective December 17, 1996. The 'MYSTIC SHRINE' no longer has control of my life. Sincerely, Reilly Rogers"
Over ten years later, Rogers is still actively working to end the corruption that he sees ruining the fraternity. Back in September, 2005, he wrote a letter to the Texas Attorney General, informing him that the Assistant Attorney General, who represented the Charitable Trusts Section, had refused to investigate allegations that:
"The Suez temple falsified documents in order to show matching funds for the Hospital Account and secure about $15,000 from the Abel-Hanger Foundation in Midland, Texas. It was also alleged and then to be found true by the Chief Auditor from the Shriner headquarters in Tampa, Florida that the funds were illegally commingled with other income, in violation of Bylaws and IRS requirements. While I respect Mr. Ross's decision to 'decline further involvement in this matter' for the reasons he stated, I sincerely believe this matter should not be 'held pending' any future complaints...I did most of the investigation and furnished Mr. Ross necessary documentation of the allegations including names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses...I certainly do not want this alleged corruption to be a national embarrassment to our state after having done nothing about it when the coverage begins. Signed sincerely and respectfully, Reilly Rogers September 27, 2005."
More recently, last November, Rogers wrote to those at Shriner headquarters out of his obligation to "advise you this lawsuit should be withdrawn immediately," in reference to the defamation lawsuit filed by both Shriner organizations against whistle blower Vernon Hill and the Charity Watch Center, operated by Paul Dolnier. The letter continues:
"The lawsuit is ill conceived, has no merit, is a waste of time and money, and detrimental to an over burdened legal system," Rogers wrote. "Vernon Hill is only guilty of asking questions and not getting answers. The lawsuit attacks Brother Hill's reputation. Where did the lawyers ascertain he was so bad previously? If he was so bad, the Shrine should have filed charges under Article 30. As Article 30 is structured, it is reminiscent of a kangaroo court martial proceeding. However, it serves one purpose; silencing those who ask questions."
For the past ten years, it seems to be customary for the Shriner who asks too many questions or has too sharp a pencil, to be "tried" so they could be made an example of and, conveniently, thrown out of the organization. In the case of the Cahaba Shrine, that oversees the Decatur Shrine Club, the Potentate has gone so far as to issue a gag order, approved by the Imperial Council, that orders all Shriners under his jurisdiction to not speak with the media unless they are cleared through him.
In the case of whistle blower Vernon Hill, the Shriners executive VP responded to Hill's questions by sending a letter to his Potentate, telling him to "do what he wanted" with Hill. A copy of the letter can be read if you click here.
Hill was not "tried" through the Shriners' own due process; rather, he and a tax specialist that he'd been working with, Paul Dolnier, were both sued for defamation last fall.
The defamation summons and complaint can be read if you click here.
The Plaintiff's First Request for Production of Documents to J. Vernon Hill can be read if you click here.
In the cases of the Myrtle Beach, Decatur, and Dorchester Shrine Clubs, there seems to be a pattern of replacing the current officers with those who follow the Potentates' orders to operate the seized clubs until the eventual order to sell is approved by Shriner headquarters.
At the top of the Shriner food chain sits headquarters AKA The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (AAONMS) who oversee all Shriner temples. Under the temples are all the special interest Shrine clubs, like those mentioned above.
Many of the Shrine clubs were formed decades ago out of the blood, sweat and tears of loyal Shriners who enjoyed golf or horses or motorcycles or holding Bingo games or pancake breakfasts to raise money to help the sick and needy children who receive much needed medical care provided at no cost by the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The hospitals and the AAONMS claim to be separate non profit groups that operate independently, though the AAONMS restated Articles of Incorporation filed with the Iowa Secretary of State say that they control all aspects of operating the hospitals.
A May 15, 2002 article in the Myrtle Beach Sun News describes how Shrine leaders at the state level "expelled 13 Myrtle Beach Shriner Club officers after the local club refused to share $300,000 they set aside for a new clubhouse":
"The local Shriners, who said their club on Restaurant Row needs constant repair, raised the money to rebuild. But Shriner rules demand that all money is shared with the 'mother' temple, in this case, the Omar Temple in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. As a result, Omar Potentate Bob Gray, a local resident who oversees all Low County Shrine chapters, removed the local club's president and 12 other officers in late April for the rest of the year."
"But first, the local chapter, which has about 130 members, voted to donate almost all of the $300,000 to Shriners Hospitals rather than give in to Omar Temple's demands. 'We're not allowed to have meetings or fundraisers,' said Frederick McGuire, a former chapter president. 'I've been a Shriner for 37 years and I've never seen anything like this.'"
Like Deja Vu, similar words were reported in a December 31, 2006 Post and Courier news story "Shriners Lament Take Over of Club; Members of Dorchester group say new leaders harm mission."
"It felt like a raid," the article begins. One member described the night the Potentate of the Omar Shrine in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, (same Omar Shrine previously mentioned) stripped members of the Dorchester Shrine Club of their power and rights.
The article continues:
"One who had been a member of the Shrine for more than 20 years remembered 'the night back in August as a hostile takeover in which Potentate Jimmy James came into the Shriners' meeting with Dorchester County police and announced he was appointing new officers.'"
The members and officers claim that they were never informed of any problems. When one of the members "questioned the Potentate about the reasons for the change in authority, he said he received a shocking reply. 'I am the Potentate, I can do it.'"
The core issue was whether or not those camping in six RV spots on the club's lake front acreage were taking advantage of their year long contracts and were living permanently or "homesteading" on the grounds.
What do these overthrows mean as club officers are replaced with those hand picked by the Potentate, especially in the Myrtle Beach, and Dorchester Club cases?
These clubs are built on valuable land and in the case of the Dorchester Shrine Club, is surrounded by development.
Maybe the answer is location, location, location.
Or maybe the answer is money, money, money.
Some of the temples and clubs have formed holding companies as the vehicle to "own" the real estate that was purchased decades ago and, today, may be worth millions. For example, the Oasis temple, near Charlotte, North Carolina, sits on 13.45 acres that was bought on February 26, 1986 for $970,000. Today, the property is valued at nearly $6.5 million and because of the Shriners' tax exempt status, no property tax is paid.
More questions arise after observing the juxtaposition between those Potentates, drunk with power, who replace a clubs' officers with their own hand picked "yes men" then seize the club in question and the first legal victory for the Shriner who stood up to the "good ol' boys" and won.
Will the Shrine leadership abandon their due process system in favor of just replacing club officers with their own hand picked "yes men?"
Does this legal victory for the past Potentate indicate that the Shriners may dismiss the defamation suit against whistle blower Vernon Hill instead of airing decades of dirty laundry for a sitting jury and the entire world to see?
What happens if the clubs' charters are pulled due to in-fighting and plummeting membership?
What happens when the clubs are at the same time disbanded and seized by the temple, with the approval of corporate, and their assets are sold?
Who is entitled to the club's proceeds that grew from the hard work of those who founded the clubs in the first place?
Why do these articles keep popping up in newspapers and tell the stories of the hard working, loyal members who watch helplessly as the clubs that they worked so hard to build are all but stolen from them?
And finally, those coordinating and overseeing these activities might be asking themselves:
"Where are we going and why am I in this hand basket?"