Lawsuit accuses two ex-officials of defaming veterans charity
By CINDY HORSWELL | Houston Chronicle | Published: May 2, 2014
HOUSTON — A Houston charity that builds adapted homes for wounded veterans is suing two of its former officials, accusing them of conspiring to defame the organization.
The lawsuit filed this week against Helping A Hero's former board member, Karen Lloyd, and former executive director, Judith Dubose, alleges that these officials violated confidentiality agreements and made Facebook postings that "cast aspersions" on the organization.
It specifically cites two Facebook posts by Dubose in which she talks about Hero donations that "disappear" and "missing" receipts for "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in expenditures, and another that refers to a Houston Chronicle article about the organization trying to reclaim a blind soldier's home after he dies, an act that Dubose calls an "atrocity."
Lloyd and Dubose contend the lawsuit is merely a veiled attempt by the organization's chairwoman, Meredith Iler, to silence them and intimidate any future critics.
The Houston Chronicle published a story Sunday about veteran home recipients who say they were pressured into joining Iler's direct-marketing sales team, which used home parties to sell beauty and health goods. Some veterans' wives reported losing thousands of dollars. But Iler said she was only trying to help the wounded warriors develop a flexible home-based business and never did anything wrong.
Lloyd, a retired U.S. Army colonel who once handled public relations for the organization before resigning last May, was cited in the story questioning Iler's actions.
"My integrity is not for sale," Lloyd said in response to the lawsuit. "I won't stop fighting on behalf of these heroes."
Dubose, a wounded veteran herself who holds graduate certification as a nonprofit executive manager from Georgetown University, said, "Last time I heard, freedom of speech was still in the Constitution." Her six-month tenure with the board ended Dec. 31, 2012.
However, the organization's current president and executive director, retired U.S. Navy Col. Jeff Ragland, and the organization's attorney, Leah Maxwell, said the decision to sue the former officials was not made lightly.
The charity acted only to protect the "rights and interests of the veterans we serve" after discovering evidence that veterans' confidential information was being improperly disclosed, they said.
To serve as the organization's executive director, Dubose signed a contract that included a confidentiality provision forbidding her from disclosing identifying information about home recipients, the lawsuit says. However, at the request of Houston media outlets, Dubose violated that policy by disseminating "a spreadsheet of all the heroes" and their contact information, the lawsuit said.
It also accuses Dubose of making "disparaging accusations" against the organization that are false. The suit accuses Lloyd of urging Dubose to violate her contract.
Lloyd and Dubose deny doing anything wrong. Their attorney, Chad Pinkerton, said his clients might have a whistle-blower claim against the organization for pursuing this lawsuit.
"This is just a bogus attempt to silence the lambs, those brave enough to come forward with the truth," he said.
Several veterans who were home recipients say the organization should not be using donor money to attack whistle-blowers.
"This lawsuit is just trying to deflect and distract from the organization's real problem," said Eddie Wright, a home recipient who lost both his hands in combat and once served on the board.
Natasha Massimino, whose husband received a home, said she was stunned that these two women who have been highly supportive of veterans are being sued.
"Judith Dubose left the organization's 2012 gala where former president George Bush spoke to accompany me to the hospital after my husband suffered a seizure. That's the kind of person she is, very giving," she said.
Iler could not be reached for comment. But in the past, she has said that her organization will be able to account for "every single penny" of donations.
The 8-year-old organization's first audit is expected to be complete in June, she said.