Iraq vet charged with soliciting money for Wounded Warriors, keeping it
By Mark Schlinkmann | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Published: April 2, 2014
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — A wounded Iraq War veteran from St. Charles County is accused by authorities of soliciting unauthorized donations of at least $6,200 for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior organization but keeping the money himself.
The man, William Ronald Harshbarger, 34, faces 11 felony counts in St. Charles and St. Louis counties, Attorney General Chris Koster announced Wednesday morning.
"Many good-hearted people gave money to Mr. Harshbarger, believing that they were contributing to a well-established, nationally recognized charity, benefiting our nation's servicemen and women," Koster said.
Koster said his office and prosecutors in the two counties cannot stand by when anyone "collects donations, falsely, in the name of a respected organization, and then keeps the money for his personal use."
St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar, who joined Koster at a news conference in the attorney general's downtown St. Louis office, said prosecutors had sympathy for Harshbarger's military service but that he nevertheless broke the law.
Among other things, prosecutors allege that Harshbarger received almost $750 from a three-day fundraising event at Living Word Christian School in O'Fallon, Mo., falsely indicating he was raising the money on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project.
In another incident, they said he accepted an invitation to attend a Pattonville High School student's 15th birthday party where he collected $1,080 and kept the money for himself. People attending gave the donations instead of birthday gifts.
They also said he altered a $30 check donated by a senior citizen from St. Charles County to appear she actually gave $300, then deposited the check into an account he used for himself.
Moreover, they said he also routinely solicited donations outside retail stores in the two counties, receiving at least one $1,000 check.
Harshbarger was charged in St. Charles County with seven counts, including charges of stealing, forgery, financial exploitation of the elderly and making misrepresentations in soliciting charity funds.
In St. Louis County, he faces four counts, including stealing by deceit and making misrepresentations. The St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, didn't take part in the news conference because he was out of town.
Harshbarger was being held Wednesday in the St. Charles County Jail. Lohmar said he was charged in his county last month but the accusations weren't announced until after a grand jury indictment was issued recently in St. Louis County.
Bail was set at $35,000 for Harshbarger, of the 1100 block of Clydesdale Drive.
Authorities said the investigation began after the Wounded Warrior organization contacted Koster's office about Harshbarger.
Court records indicate Harshbarger pleaded guilty in 2010 in St. Charles county to felony stealing charges but Lohmar said the cases didn't involve a charity scam.
Michelle Roberts, communications director for the organization, said the group greatly appreciates efforts by Koster and the two prosecutors in filing criminal charges to protect donors.
"On occasion Wounded Warrior Project is notified of people using our reputable name for ill-gotten gains," Roberts said in the news release announcing the charges.
"It is important for people to know that we as a reputable nonprofit organization do not solicit cash donations door-to-door or outside of stores."