Nonprofit group for vets named in suit filed by ex-SEAL
By DIANNA CAHN | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 11, 2015
Retired Navy SEAL Jason Redman garnered huge support for the charity he founded in 2009, Chesapeake-based Wounded Wear, by drawing attention to the fight of warriors like himself — wounded in combat but refusing to give up on life.
The organization now faces an internal battle. Four members of the board of directors — including the chairman, deputy chairman and treasurer — resigned last month following a dispute over how Redman, the executive director, was running the growing nonprofit. At the charity's annual benefit last weekend, Redman announced plans to hire a professional to take over for him. He will remain as the spokesman.
Last week, Redman, his wife and co-founder, Erica, and the charity were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by another former SEAL.
The troubles with the board and lawsuit stem from Wounded Wear's involvement with a documentary about a piece of art created by a SEAL to remember his fallen brethren. They also represent what some board members felt was a blurring of lines between the charity and Redman's private business and relationships, in particular with the documentary's creators.
"The issues surrounding the film is what revealed issues internally in Wounded Wear," said the former deputy chairman of the board, Magda Khalifa. "That's when we started asking questions."
On Sept. 11, 2012, former SEAL Dave Hall fired 79 bullets into a target to memorialize 79 SEALs who have died since the 2001 attacks. Hall, with the help of an artist, turned the target into a work of art, "Until it Hurts," and gave it to Wounded Wear for a fund-raising auction.
The highest bidder was Todd Grubbs — a supporter of Wounded Wear — who paid $17,500. Grubbs and his wife, Stephanie, had become close with the Redmans, and the purchase deepened the friendship.
Soon, Todd Grubbs was working on a documentary about the piece, in which Hall re-enacted its creation and explained why he did it. The documentary, with the same name as the artwork, also included interviews with Jason Redman and the families of the SEALs commemorated.
In mid-2014, Stephanie Grubbs was working at Redman's private company, SOF Spoken, when the board of directors for Wounded Wear voted to hire her there, as well.
As her husband and the film's producer wrapped up the film, Redman threw his support behind it. In January, the filmmakers signed international distribution deals.
Then relationships began to unravel, according to the lawsuit and interviews with Todd Grubbs and former board members.
Jason Redman declined several requests for comment or an interview.
Hall, the creator of the artwork, fell out with Grubbs and Redman. According to Hall's lawsuit, which also named Todd and Stephanie Grubbs and the production company, Digital Thunderdome, Hall had participated in the project on the condition that he would give final cut approval.
He claims that approval was never sought or given and that the use of his name and image in the film and its publicity endanger the security clearance he needs for work.
Grubbs said the fallout, however, started with a dispute over the Norfolk premiere and evolved into a fight over future proceeds.
Meanwhile, board members said in early February, they learned that Redman had used the Wounded Wear stamp on film documents without board approval. Wounded Wear did not have a legal stake in the film, they said.
A sponsorship letter written and signed by Redman bore the logos of both Wounded Wear and "Until it Hurts," which was not a legal entity, according to a board member and confirmed by Todd Grubbs. The contact on the letter was Stephanie Grubbs at her SOF Spoken email.
The letter took board members by surprise. There were concerns that Wounded Wear resources were being used when she helped organize the "Until it Hurts" Norfolk premiere. One board member said Wounded Wear was a signatory on the distribution agreement.
Board members met with Redman and urged him to fix the appearance of a conflict. They asked that the money that had been collected for the film be frozen until lines between himself and the charity could be more clearly delineated. A suggestion was made that Wounded Wear hire a professional administrator, but Redman refused, several board members said.
They also consulted a nonprofit attorney.
"Under counsel, we were advised as board members that if we continued with the conflict of interest, we would be implicitly compliant with the actions that had been taken," said Khalifa, a former Army staff sergeant who runs a consulting business. "It was clear (Redman) did not trust his board of directors, even though we were following the advice of legal counsel on the matter."
Khalifa and Chairman George Taylor resigned in mid-February. Another board member, Joe Gelardi, who did not respond to a request for comment, had resigned a few days earlier.
"I resigned because I lost faith in the fidelity of the information that was being provided and did not feel there was transparency in the business dealings," said Taylor, a vice president of a risk management company and a Marine Corps veteran. "I resigned because I was not going to be a figurehead."
Then board Treasurer Dave West left, saying Wounded Wear was taking too much of his time. He described the problems as "growing pains" that "needed to be managed."
"Obviously, there were some internal struggles," said West, a former Army officer who works in the defense industry. "I don't attribute it to honesty or integrity or a truthfulness issue, but a small company that in a good way has outgrown the ability of its small executive team."
"I do believe they will recover," he added. "I believe it's a good organization. They mean well."
In Hall's lawsuit, which asks for compensation and for the court to halt distribution and marketing of the film, he claims that Jason Redman and Todd Grubbs "colluded" to ensure that Grubbs won the auction for the artwork by allowing Grubbs to pay for the work later. Hall said he also bid on it, hoping to display the work in a local museum.
The lawsuit also raised questions about whether the proceeds have reached the families of the deceased as promised.
Grubbs said the auction was online and that there was no "collusion." He said Hall was celebrating the film until the dispute over the premiere. He also said he's turned the film rights over to the son of a SEAL commemorated in the artwork.
"You don't go around telling people I am stealing money when there's no money made," Grubbs said. "I don't even own it anymore."
Erica Redman also declined to be interviewed. But she did say they have not yet been served the lawsuit and that her husband's plan to step aside as executive director was not in response to the troubles.
"Due to growth, we are starting to look for an executive director," she said.
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