CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Wyoming County man pocketed nearly $240,000 through a charity fund he created to supposedly purchase calling cards for overseas military servicemen and women, police said.
Prosecutors said the man might be connected to similar scams in at least two other states.
State National Guard officials became suspicious of the West Virginia Veterans Relief Fund and its founder, Jerry Lewallen, 58, when they discovered the headquarters was an abandoned house in Mullens, according to a criminal complaint filed in Wyoming County Magistrate Court. The only other contact for the fund was a P.O. box in Charleston, the complaint said.
Mullens Police Chief Ray Toler and Officer J. Meadows began looking into Lewallen's activities and noticed he was using the same IRS tax-exempt code on his website as Common Ground Charities, a legally registered 501(c)3 in Indiana.
According to the complaint, Lewallen promised Guard officials he would mail them international calling cards for overseas military if they forwarded the receipts to Common Ground.
Guard officials received only 10 cards about every four months and had requested to be removed from the fund's website months ago, according to the complaint. Toler found that Common Ground also requested to be removed from the website and filed complaints with the Indiana Attorney General's Office, according to the complaint.
The West Virginia Veterans Relief Fund is not registered with the IRS or the Secretary of State's office.
Police executed a search warrant on Aug. 25 at a motel room where Lewallen was staying and seized his computer and bank records, Toler said in an email.
After looking through the records, Toler discovered that the fund generated about $285,000 since 2008, according to the complaint. Toler said only about $43,000 of it had benefited legitimate charity work.
The officers met with Lewallen's sole employee who said he made about $100 a day soliciting donations. The employee said Lewallen used the name "Lou Allen or Sgt. Allen" when asking for money and told callers he needed $300 to sponsor soldiers, Toler said.
Toler and Meadows said they found Lewallen's wallet inside the abandoned house and allegedly found two OxyContin pills inside the motel room. Lewallen was arrested Aug. 25 and charged with obtaining money under false pretenses and possession of a controlled substance.