Florida Bar Investigating Complaint Against Corporate Attorney: Shriners Part 4
Tue Jun 27, 2006
Shriner Whistleblower Vernon Hill has called on the Florida Bar Association to take action against Shriners corporate attorney Jay Fleisher. In a four page complaint, Hill accuses Fleisher of misrepresentation, intimidation, violating IRS disclosure law, unwarranted censorship, chilling free speech and violating John Doe cyber space protections.
According to the office of staff attorney Jodi Thompson of the Florida Bar Association, Tampa branch, the fact finding process begins by sending a copy of the complaint to Fleisher, who then has 15 days to respond. Thompson then has four months to gather information to decide if the complaint has merit, and if so, whether to send the file to a grievance committee or to a staff investigator.
"I hope the Florida Bar’s rules on lawyer conduct will be enforced,” Hill said. “I am just one person yet I wonder how many other honest, hardworking Shriners have been treated the same way that I have. I’ve found that there is a pattern of disregard and punishment by Shriners officers and officials designed to attack anyone who challenges them. Fleisher’s actions are the latest in a long history of heavy handed tactics and violations of Shriners rights. It is now time for the Florida Bar to enforce the rules and to take action against those who misrepresent, intimidate and censor.”
Fleisher had no comment.
For years, Hill drove sick and crippled children to their medical appointments at Shriners hospitals and while waiting with other volunteer drivers, heard them describe how money they raised for the hospitals was squandered on good times for temple officers or misspent on temple expenses. Hill then spent the next four years asking all levels of Shriners leadership about the money. Along the way, he discovered that twenty years ago the Orlando Sentinel had investigated the Shriners and exposed their bait and switch tactics of using sick and crippled children to raise millions for the hospitals that, in reality, was spent on things like entertainment, meals, travel and ceremonies.
“In 1985, the newspaper found that out of $23 million raised, only $340,000 went to the hospitals,” Hill explained. “I’ve asked the leadership ‘Where does all the money go?’ and no one has given me a straight answer. Instead, I’ve been kicked off my committees and now, their attorney, Jay Fleisher, is sending me ‘cease and desist’ emails.”
Eighteen months ago, Hill was introduced to a Florida tax specialist and former IRS agent, Paul Dolnier and they've been working together ever since.
“I’ve got no axe to grind,” Dolnier explained. “But the Shriners accounting practices are certainly irregular and indicate that what the Orlando Sentinel discovered in 1986 may be happening again.”
Hill and Dolnier began by ordering Shriner tax returns from the IRS. Dolnier then worked for six months analyzing thousands of pages and zeroed in on the returns filed by Shriners’ groups in Pennsylvania. He contacted Pennsylvania state investigators who just happened have other business in Florida. They met in Ft. Lauderdale for six hours as Dolnier presented evidence that the Shriners might be violating Pennsylvania charity law because the paper work showed that less than 50% of the net proceeds from fund raising were being sent to the hospitals. Dolnier also began working on the Charity Watch website where he’s posted analysis of tax returns from the Shriners temples in the states of Florida, California, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas as well as Pennsylvania.
The website states that:
“Attorney Generals Office Charitable Registration for the State of PA is looking at this group as a matter of “great interest” concerning past and current charity fund raising policies and procedures throughout the entire State of PA which includes ALL Shrine Temples and Groups & Clubs.”
In yet another attempt to get answers, Hill emailed Fleisher and asked him to take a look at the Charity Watch website and alleged that Pennsylvania officials were investigating the Shriners. Fleisher then sent both Hill and Dolnier “cease and desist” emails stating that he’d spoken with Pennsylvania officials who had told him there was no such investigation, which, according to state of Pennsylvania officials, is not what he was told.
If Fleisher is found guilty of any of the charges, the bar can impose sanctions for “making false statements, fraud and misrepresentation and improper communications with individuals in the legal system that cause injury or potential injury to a client, the public, or the legal system.”
Hill hopes the Florida Bar will find enough evidence to take action against Fleisher.
“Good hearted donors and volunteers should question a system that is increasingly secretive and not forthcoming about their finances,” Hill concluded. “Charity laws apply to everyone and the Shriners should stop acting as if they are above the law.”
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