It has come to my attention that a scam artist has been making his way through the mental health community, trying to make things difficult to those of us that may be a bit fragile. I usually don’t post stories by other people on my blog, but if this can save even one person from the trauma that this person has been putting people through, it will be worth it. So, here is the article as written by Melody Nolan and Patricia Eden.
Have you ever felt like there were weights on your limbs and eyelids and your thoughts and observations were in slow-motion? I often suffer from a clinically depressed mood. Sometimes, it is accompanied by this “physiological depression.” That’s how I was feeling as I dragged myself to the mailbox, each step more laborious than the last. My reward? A notice from The California Secretary of State’s office essentially granting my request to transition TreasureLives from a private corporation to a non-profit! Typically, one must begin the incorporation process from scratch. I started to be able to blink normally again.
The Stress of Forming a Non-Profit Organization
Then, reality hit. Filing fees. Registration fees. Legal assistance to assure compliance with the rules and regulations of a 501(c)(3). Tax preparation. Forget the funding for TreasureLives’ suicide prevention and mental health awareness programs: We’re talking about thousands of dollars in business expenses to begin and maintain the organization – thousands of dollars that I don’t have.
PTSDWifey Got Her Hopes Up
My friend, Patricia Eden of PTSDWifey.com, had the answer. She had been given an amazing opportunity by Victory For Veterans (VFV): They were going to absorb PTSDWifey into their non-profit as a DBA (Doing Business As,) promising perpetual capital for taxes, legal fees, administrative costs and marketing expenses. They were even going to fund her program! Ecstatic, she asked the CEO, Steve Durgin, if VFV might be interested funding TreasureLives’ initiatives, too. The next afternoon I was on a conference call with him and VFV’s Board member, Mikel Burroughs.
Too Good to Be True
Steve and Mikel extended an offer, but it didn’t resemble anything described by Patricia. Becoming a DBA meant relinquishing everything I had worked so hard to develop. VFV would assume ownership of my brand name, logo, slogans, domain, social media channels, supporters, and relationships with other professionals and their organizations.
Contrary to what Patricia had been told, I was going to be responsible for raising the funds to which I “would probably” be entitled. Although I would “have significant influence” over decisions regarding TreasureLives, the reality was that VFV’s board members possessed absolute authority. I know it sounds like a lousy deal, but because Steve and Mikel preyed on my desires for non-profit status and administrative support, I gave it serious consideration.
Trust Your Instincts: They Are Your Protectors
Unless you count my three-year-old cat, Raymond, I don’t have children. TreasureLives, along with its missions, donors, volunteers, and followers is my family. Given that I dedicated the majority of my waking hours over the last year to building TreasureLives, I wasn’t going to hand it over without some serious thought. The discrepancy between Patricia’s offer and mine set our women’s intuition into motion and without delay, we played Cagney and Lacey. What we uncovered over the next 48 hours was so unbelievable that it was surreal.
First, we contacted each non-profit identified as a “Partner” on the VFV website. According to Steve, partnered organizations are established DBA’s. Of those which responded, the majority had not even heard of VFV; Some even confirmed copyright infringement for unauthorized use of logos and websites. Each person we talked to planted another seed of doubt, prompting a Google search using the profile pictures of VFV’s Board of Directors.
Who Are These People?
The search revealed several discrepancies between the names of the people listed on the Board and the names of the people accompanying those same profile photos on Google. We quickly realized that there is a strong possibility that VFV is engaged in identity theft. Creepy, right? At that moment, we began to worry. We became engulfed by uneasiness and a sense of vulnerability. For some reason, we still wanted to give Steve and Mikel the benefit of the doubt. In an odd combination of giving them a chance to prove us wrong coupled with an urgent need to collect more “evidence” against them, we engaged in a series of emails containing pointed questions. Their responses and provided documents were evasive. For example: Not only are their financials incomplete, but all projections and existing records of profits and expenses magically display round numbers.
The written contract we had repeatedly requested was finally drafted with the title “Memorandum of Understanding.” It is written with ambiguity and nonspecific terms such as "might," "could," and "maybe." From the day I made contact with Steve and Mikel, I have been on a disturbing emotional roller coaster. One minute I think TreasureLives’ financial problems have been solved; The next minute I think I am being targeted by scam artists.
Stress Induced Confusion: Second-Guessing Myself
At times, I really believed I was imagining all of this. I carefully referred back to my scribbled notes, Patricia’s scanned chats, black and white printouts and the colored Google photos, hoping that I was wrong. Once again, reality set in. Steve and Mikel are not my fairy godfathers. Patricia and I have a real problem on our hands - we need to stop VFV from stripping unsuspecting philanthropists of the rights to their organizations.
We sprung into action. Patricia compiled a 34-paged “discovery” document, which I submitted to the Attorney General on July 13, 2017, along with the Department of Justice’s official complaint form. Patricia’s complaint was soon to follow. I vacillate between fear and fury when I think about what might have happened if we had not honored our intuition. Had we become DBA’s of VFV, not only would we have lost our rights to TreasureLives and PTSDWifey, but depending on the depth of what is actually happening here, we may have become subject to fraud charges ourselves. If you, a Huffington Post reader, have the ability to dig deeper, Patricia and I will gratefully do everything we can to further an investigation.
What Happens Now?
Where does this leave everyone? According to Steve’s emails, a few weeks ago, he and his wife packed up their home and moved into a camper so that he could pedal his way across America. His campaign, Bike For 22, is a fundraiser for suicide prevention to address the tragic 22 successfully completed suicides committed daily by veterans. Patricia and I became suspicious when he took off without so much as publishing a single press release. Normally, such a venture would be launched with a substantial marketing campaign. Equally concerning is the fact that so far, Steve has refused to reveal his exact location at any point in time. Is Bike For 22 a scam? Is VFV raising funds under false pretenses?
With Bike For 22 still in its early stages, on July 22, 2017, Steve contacted Patricia and me pushing to move forward with our partnerships. He wants us to facilitate promotions for a new campaign - Drive For 22. We have been assigned the unrealistic task of accruing two million dollars in donations. Yes, you read that correctly: TWO MILLION DOLLARS!
As we post our story, Patricia and I have not yet officially declined VFV’s offers. We wanted to warn you, the public, first, so that you can avoid victimization by Victory For Veterans. Unfortunately, we don’t know how VFV will react when they hear our whistles blowing. So, Patricia and I ask that you please contact us if you stumble across any unusual content regarding the activities of our organizations.
As for me personally, I am back where I started…wondering where I will get the funds to move forward with TreasureLives.
Yesterday, July 27, 2017, Patricia and I received this email from Steve: “Hi ladies, Last night we received news that our Google grant ($10k per month) was accepted. So, we'll begin utilizing this since it is a use it or lose it deal...Also, after 3 months this can grow to $45k!!! Would love to begin working with both of you and use this for that purpose…Cheers and have an awesome day!”
I don’t know when it happened, but when I checked this morning Victory For Veterans had removed ALL of their Partners from their website! Is this a result of our complaints to The Attorney General? Is it due to the “cease and desist” order that was served by one of the previously so-called “partners?” Did it occur shortly after this article was posted?
This is a victory for Melody and Patricia…or is it?
No. Not quite. Their site now reads: “As our funding comes in the board of directors will begin evaluating organizations we feel match our mission and provide excellent services for our Veterans and will begin accepting applications [for partners] at that time.” VFV has erased evidence of the identities of their current and previous victims. Patricia and I are in possession of that list. Now, we have an additional concern: the new list that will be built once “applications” are taken and approved.
TreasureLives’ suicide prevention slogan is “Pause, Don’t Stop.” When it comes to saving lives, that is sufficient. When it comes to preventing victimization, it is not. Victory For Veterans has been paused. They have yet to be stopped.
If you can help stop this scam please call (760) 298-3144