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Dole, 'CSI' actress back away from controversial veterans' charity

By David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin, CNN Special Investigations Unit
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Wed August 15, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dole, Helgenberger cut ties with Help Hospitalized Veterans
  • California authorities accuse the charity of paying excessive salaries
  • The group says the allegations are unproven and it will defend itself

New York (CNN) -- A leading television actress and a former Republican presidential candidate say they are backing away from further involvement with a controversial California-based veteran's charity.

Marg Helgenberger, who for years starred in the CBS mega-hit "CSI," had appeared in Internet videos supporting a charity called Help Hospitalized Veterans. In one YouTube video, she says, "There are so many ways that you can say 'thank you' to a hospitalized veteran through service and sacrifice, whether it's by volunteering at your local VA hospital or helping HHV to continue to provide their many wonderful programs."

Late last week, the California attorney general's office filed a civil suit against HHV, alleging "excessive" salary payments to many of its officers and directors and also alleging a history of misleading the Internal Revenue Service on its tax filings. The lawsuit seeks to remove every member of the charity's board of directors.

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HHV has called the allegations unproven.

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In a statement emailed to CNN, Helgenberger's public relations spokesman said, "Marg was deeply disappointed when she learned of these allegations and immediately had her name removed from the organization."

In its most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service, HHV says it paid Michael Lynch, the charity's current president, an annual salary of more than $389,000. According to the complaint filed by the attorney general's office, Lynch has received more than $900,000 in compensation in recent years.

Sen. Bob Dole, whose picture with Lynch appears on the HHV web site, also distanced himself from the charity and specifically from its former president, Roger Chapin, who is also listed as a defendant in the California complaint.

In an email to CNN, the former Senate majority leader, 1996 Republican presidential nominee and seriously wounded World War II veteran said HHV had been in business for years.

"Early on, I supported him (Chapin), thinking he was helping veterans and their families with most of the money he raised," Dole said. "The truth is, that was not the case, as much of the money covered his salary and the salaries of other top executives. As I recall, he also owns a first-rate house. There were other troubling matters that led to a hearing before Congressman Waxman in 2008. Chapin makes a good case, which is why he's been so successful. The trouble is, he doesn't give the bulk of his funds to veterans."

Dole referred to a House hearing in 2008 before Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, in which Chapin acknowledged that HHV had spent donor money on golf course memberships, the purchase of a condominium outside Washington and other perks. In its complaint, California authorities also said Chapin had engineered a loan using HHV donations to its direct-mail fund-raising partner, American Target Advertising, owned by the conservative activist Richard Viguerie.

When the complaint was made public, a spokesman for Viguerie told CNN there would be no comment "at this time." A message and e-mail left at American Target Advertising on Tuesday was not returned.

In a statement issued last week, Lynch said the charity hopes "that these unproven allegations will not diminish the more than 40 years of service HHV has given to our nation's most valuable treasure, our veterans.

"HHV looks forward to the chance to tell its story and hopes that this action will not impede its ability to provide vital support to hospitalized veterans nationwide," he said.

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