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AL Investigation

     Below are articles and editorials on the continuing investigation of the alleged fraudulent activities of the Greater Alabama Council.  For information on past and current similar fraudulent membership scams in other councils (including the Greater Alabama Council), click here.

Scouting Group Inflated Roster, Inquiry Shows
June 4, 2006
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
 

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., June 3 (AP) — An internal audit revealed on Friday that the rolls of an Alabama Boy Scout group under F.B.I. review were inflated by more than 13,000 memberships over three years.

The group, the Greater Alabama Council, which serves much of central and northern Alabama, said nearly all of the questionable memberships were linked to a program that was supposed to serve disadvantaged city children.

The council issued a statement announcing "corrective actions," including the retirement of its chief, Ronnie Holmes, and periodic audits by someone outside its staff.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation began reviewing the council's records in late 2004 after questions were raised about its rolls and "ghost" youths created to increase the size of the organization. The council also began an investigation.

Critics have said that larger membership rosters might lead to additional financing from donors and to greater career opportunities for scouting officials. The United Way gave the council almost $1 million in 2005.

No charges have been filed.

John Hayden, the chairman of the council's board, said auditors did not determine whether the problems were accidental or deliberate.

Any problems are unacceptable, Mr. Hayden said, adding: "We're the Boy Scouts of America. "We've got to do everything right."

The audit found several thousand questionable registrations each year from 2002 through 2004, according to a statement from the Scouts. Most of those involved a program that waives a $10 fee to help youths from low-income homes.

The worst year was 2002, when 5,619 applications were found lacking basic information, representing 13 percent of the membership in the council's traditional scouting programs that year.

Tom Willis, a dentist and scouting volunteer who went public with claims of inflated membership, has said that Boy Scout employees would often add fictitious children to rosters under pressure from headquarters of the council, which oversees programs in 22 counties.

In one case, Mr. Willis said, he found about 20 children in a school-based group who had the last name Doe.

 

Ex-Scout Leader: Dismissal Not for Affair

June 8, 2005 5:16 AM

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - A veteran Boy Scout leader dismissed for alleged personal misconduct says he was kicked out because he blew the whistle on inflated membership numbers, not because of an affair with a married Scout volunteer.

An attorney for the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America said Tuesday the claim by Tom Willis was ``completely inaccurate.''

Willis, who has been active in Scouting programs for 25 years, received a letter May 27 from the Alabama council banning him from contact with Scouts. It cited three grounds, including having sexual relations with a woman at Scout functions.

He has acknowledged having an affair with a married, female Scout volunteer from May 2000 through July 2001 but denied having sex with her at any Scout function.

Willis said he believes council members retaliated against him for exposing the practice of padding membership numbers to boost financial contributions. Council officials said earlier the membership numbers are being investigated by the FBI.

The council's attorney, David Smith, said Willis' dismissal was ``completely separate and unrelated'' to the membership numbers matter.

A recent audit found that nearly 5,000 boys were falsely registered in an Atlanta area Boys Scouts program, largely because of pressure on Scout officials assigned to inner city areas to increase membership.

Ousted Scout leader admits relationship with volunteer

June 06, 2005
KELLI HEWETT TAYLOR
Birmingham News

A Boy Scout leader dismissed last week for personal misconduct says he did have an affair with a married, female Scout volunteer.

Although Tom Willis of Decatur, a dentist and long-time Scout leader, had denied the relationship to The News, he confirmed Saturday that the affair did occur from May 2000 through July 2001.

"This was consensual between two people who met during a Scouting function," Willis said in an e-mail. "The statement that I solicited and participated in sexual activity with her at Scout functions is not truthful," as outlined in his dismissal letter from the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Willis said he was not dismissed for the affair, but for allegedly having it at Scout functions.

Willis disputes the way his council interview was conducted. He said he was quizzed about a personal relationship with one female Scouting volunteer, then notified in his dismissal letter that he was barred from the organization for having sex at Scouting events with a different woman.

Willis says he did not have the chance to adequately defend himself or address executive Scout committee members.

Retaliation suspected:

Willis says he believes the council members are retaliating because he criticized a proposed camp land deal last year, and because this year he has accused the organization of padding membership numbers to boost financial contributions. The council membership is being probed by the FBI.

The council's volunteer attorney, David Smith, said last week that Willis' dismissal is solely for personal issues, not for any public criticism of the organization.

Scouts, Cubs' rolls off nearly 6,000: 22 counties show losses since FBI's inquiry into padding

June 04, 2005
KELLI HEWETT TAYLOR and JEFF HANSEN
Birmingham News

The number of boys listed on Boy Scout and Cub Scout rolls for the 22 counties of north Alabama has plummeted by 5,863.

The Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which includes Jefferson, Shelby and 20 other counties, went from 19,280 boys in May 2004 to 13,417 last month, a decline of 30 percent, council figures show.

The numbers have dropped since the FBI began probing allegations that the council padded membership rolls to boost grants and other financial contributions. FBI spokesman Jeff Fuqua said the investigation was still under way.

Scout officials provided the figures to The Birmingham News on Friday after a newspaper request. Officials declined to be interviewed about reasons for the decline but provided a written statement.

Legal concerns

"One of our major reasons is because of the threat of litigation by the ACLU of government, military and schools which are chartered partners for our traditional Scouting programs," said a faxed statement from Randy Haines, board chairman for the Greater Alabama Council.

"We currently have 147 units that fall into the above category that are not registered and will not be registered until we find new chartered partners during the summer and fall."

Haines' statement says the council expects to find partners by the end of the year and re-register those members.

Haines' statement also says a drop in its other program, a school-based character development program called Learning for Life, has been hit by state school budget cuts and a loss of several grants. The result is a decline from 29,683 members in May 2004 to 15,045 in May 2005. The Scouts' executive committee voted Thursday to find the additional money to restore the program for the next school year.

Scout membership figures were initially released to the newspaper by Decatur Boy Scout leader Tom Willis, a dentist, Eagle Scout and Scout executive board member who has criticized Scout officials for inflating their rolls. The Greater Alabama Council reviewed those documents, then supplied to The News a set of updated figures, which include 275 additional Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

Wednesday, the council banned Willis from contact with the Scouts.

A May 27 council letter to Willis says he was dismissed because of complaints that he "solicited and participated in an inappropriate sexual relationship with (a married female Scout volunteer) at Scout functions."

"This is because I questioned the board," Willis said. "I'm not surprised. The intimidation has been going on for years. I've heard them say they will remove the people who have spoken out."

Contentions

The council letter also says Willis was uncooperative and not forthright during an interview about the alleged sexual relationship, and that he was "grossly inappropriate" in an e-mail he sent to the council.

Willis said that, in an attempt to show the woman's character, he e-mailed Scout officials a nude photo of her posing on a boat and wearing only a Boy Scout hat. Willis says someone else snapped the picture and sent him a copy.

Willis said the photo was reportedly taken a few hours after a Scout trip officially ended. Willis said neither he nor any Scouts were present.

Willis, who is married, says there was no affair. He plans to appeal the Scouts' dismissal decision, which he believes is retaliation for criticizing the organization.

Scout attorney David Smith, another volunteer member of the executive committee, denied that Willis was kicked out for his complaints.

"That is completely false," said Smith, who helped investigate Willis. "None of us would allow any sort of retaliation to occur. The two issues (of membership complaints and the alleged affair) are completely separate and unrelated."

United Way

Smith said the executive committee has decided to hire an outside accounting firm to complete the investigation.

In the statement given to the newspaper, the council reported:

A drop in Cub Scout enrollment from 11,638 to 7,710.

A drop in Boy Scout enrollment from 7,642 to 5,707.

An increase in Venturing unit enrollment (for boys and girls ages 14 to 20) from 1,351 to 1,573.

The council has not given any update in membership numbers to the United Way of Central Alabama, said United Way spokeswoman Samuetta Nesbitt.

United Way has allocated $8.1 million to the Greater Alabama Council over the past 10 years, including $940,855 for this year, United Way records show. In January, the FBI subpoenaed Boy Scout records from United Way.

Some other Boy Scout councils across the United States are facing challenges to their membership claims. In Atlanta, the top executive of the Atlanta Area Council resigned and took responsibility for falsified records after an audit showed that the council had inflated its minority membership by nearly 5,000.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that Scout staffers in Atlanta inflated blacks' membership because they feared they would lose their jobs if they missed their assigned quotas.

The United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta withheld $945,000 of Scout funding while the audit was under way, spokesman Mark Dvorak said.

Scouts defend `John Doe' roster entries

February 11, 2005
JEREMY GRAY
Nirmingham News

The Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America issued a statement Thursday defending its use of "John Does" on Scout rosters.

The FBI is investigating whether Alabama Council administrators falsely inflated membership numbers. Some critics have said pseudonyms were used to create "ghost units" to get more money from charities and donor groups.

The council statement said a pseudonym is used to protect the identities of at-risk kids in Scout programs.

"The registration of scouts as John Doe should not be construed as an attempt to falsify records, inflate lists, or deceive any person or organizations," the statement said.

Tom Willis, a Fort Payne Scout volunteer, said the Does he found on one Scout roster were supposedly fourth-graders at Fort Payne Elementary School and not in a drug rehabilitation or other program for at-risk youths.

Willis, who earned the rank of Eagle Scout, said at-risk youths usually enroll in a Learning for Life program and are not included on Boy Scout rosters.

"You can't count them as Scouts, that's the problem," he said.

A letter from Tim Naugher, director of The Bridge Inc., a youth substance-abuse facility based in Gadsden, was included with the council's statement. It said several of its young people take part in Scouting's Venturing Crews on an anonymous basis.

Naugher wrote to Scout officials Feb. 3 and said he was concerned the investigation might lead to a requirement that all kids who participate in Scouts be identified by name.

Federal law would prohibit disclosing the names of the youths who participate, Naugher said.

The statement said the Greater Alabama Council has developed "an aggressive plan for implementing an internal audit." The plan is being implemented by community and business volunteers, the statement said. Council employees are "cooperating fully," according to the statement.

Boy Scouts Suspected of Inflating Rolls

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2005; Page A01

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. -- The middle-aged parents, unmistakable in their Boy Scout leader browns and khakis, clumped outside a training meeting here, their worries spilling out. These are troubled days for the grown-ups at the Scout get-togethers sprinkled among the churches, back yards and schoolhouses of Alabama's rolling northeast.

Federal subpoenas have been flying around. FBI agents have been asking questions, and the administrators down at the Boy Scouts' Greater Alabama Council headquarters in Birmingham have had to fess up to hundreds of volunteers that their 22-county organization is under federal investigation. The same U.S. attorney's office in Birmingham that this week opened its case against HealthSouth executive Richard M. Scrushy, one of the marquee corporate corruption probes in the nation, is also investigating the local Boy Scouts.

Volunteers say paid Scout leaders have created fictitious "ghost units" for years to pump up membership numbers to trick donor groups and charities, including the United Way, into giving them more money. In some cases, the alleged membership scams do not even appear to have been very clever. Volunteer Tom Willis, a 1960s Eagle Scout who is also the father of two Eagle Scouts, says he was presented with a roster for a supposed group of 30 youths in Fort Payne, Ala. -- each had the last name Doe.

"It seems to go against the basic things Scouts are about: trustworthy, loyal . . . trustworthy, most of all," volunteer Susan Backus said as the stragglers trickled out of the Jacksonville training meeting.

The uproar in Alabama, the latest in a string of at least five bogus-membership scandals in Boy Scout councils around the country since the 1990s, has exposed an undercurrent of tension between unpaid volunteers and the professionals who are paid -- sometimes handsomely -- to run Boy Scout programs.

The United Way of Central Alabama, which received a subpoena and is one of several chapters that contributed money to the Greater Alabama Council, has given more than $6 million to the council in the past five years. Big membership numbers can translate to big donations, promotions and pay raises, many volunteers say, providing temptation for ambitious Scout leaders to engage in creative accounting.

"Just because these people call themselves Boy Scout professionals doesn't mean they're going to adhere to the principles of the Boy Scouts," said Ralph Stark, a Boy Scout volunteer in Locust Fork, Ala., and a retired investigator for the Office of Personnel Management. "They're playing the game of a businessperson."

Stark and other Boy Scout volunteers here describe a high-pressure recruiting environment, something akin to the get-the-numbers-up hype of a sales convention. Boy Scout enrollment has been declining at the same time that the organization has been dealing with lingering controversies about the dismissal of gay and atheist Scout leaders. The number of youths in Scouting programs -- including Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and coed Venturing groups -- dropped more than 5 percent in 2003 from the year before, to 3.2 million, according to Boy Scout statistics.

The decline worries volunteers, such as Backus and Stark, who volunteer 20 hours a week and rave about the impact Boy Scout programs can have on young people, particularly those without solid "family or religious" foundations. But the possible manipulation of numbers, both here and elsewhere, worries them even more.

The Boy Scouts have a long history of membership imbroglios. In the mid-1970s, a large council in Chicago was caught boosting minority enrollment figures. During the 1990s, councils in Los Angeles, Vicksburg, Miss., and Jacksonville, Fla., were tangled in ghost-unit controversies. In the past few months, as the Alabama case has grown from suspicions to a publicly acknowledged investigation, a civil rights leader in Atlanta has accused local Boy Scout leaders of falsifying minority enrollment figures to get more grant money. U.S. Postal Service investigators and a federal grand jury in Dallas have looked into allegations as recently as 2003 that a large Boy Scout council manipulated membership numbers.

"It can't be happening in so many parts of the country unless there's pressure from the top," Willis said.

Sometimes the controversies have exacted a financial toll. Private grant money was pulled in Jacksonville, Fla. Charity donations decreased when the Los Angeles council corrected its numbers. The Dallas council has gotten less United Way money since deleting nearly 12,000 names, which was about a quarter of its alleged membership and included a large number of names in low-income areas, from the rolls.

A common denominator in the Dallas and Alabama cases is Ronnie Holmes, the top-ranking executive in the Greater Alabama Council, one of four Boy Scout councils in the state. Holmes was a regional administrator when allegations of numbers-fixing arose in Dallas in 2000. Dale Draper, a Dallas Boy Scout employee who discovered the phony membership figures, said his concerns were "swept under the rug" by Holmes during an internal audit.

"Before they did the audit, he told me, 'I can tell you, we won't find anything,' " said Draper, now a Scout volunteer in Utah. "It seemed like the good-old-boy network."

In Alabama, Holmes is one of the Scout executives who volunteers say has not been responsive to complaints about ghost units. Volunteers have been irked at Holmes, who did not respond to five phone calls requesting an interview, and others over the handling of the council's $7 million annual budget, the proposed sale of old campgrounds and the symbolism of the council's $2 million Birmingham headquarters.

Volunteers blanched after discovering this year that Holmes was paid $221,369 in 2003 -- more than eight times the $26,735 median household income in Birmingham and significantly more than Alabama's other Scout executives, who made between $82,000 and $145,800 in the same year.

Randy Haines, a Compass Bank executive and incoming chairman of the Greater Alabama Council's volunteer board, a group stocked with some of the Alabama business world's elite, declined to discuss any aspect of the organization's publicly disclosed finances or to say whether the council has hired a defense lawyer. Haines said that he is unaware of manipulated numbers but that the council is cooperating with investigators and conducting an internal audit.

"I really don't want to get into a lot of detail," he said. "We're restricting our statements."

A Boy Scouts of America spokesman, who did not return calls for this article, told the Associated Press that the national organization is "dedicated to the accurate reporting of membership." Federal prosecutors also did not return calls about the case.

Backus, one of the volunteers, said membership scams have been an "open secret" for years in Alabama. They even had nicknames. One was called "Up and Out" and involved signing up Scouts near the end of the year and then double-counting them as new members on the rolls of that year and the next, she said. Volunteers also talk of getting long lists of units with fake names from council headquarters and from mid-level district executives. Backus ran across the problem seven years ago when she tried to contact unit leaders about a Cub Scout day camp.

"They'd say, 'That pack has been dead for years,' " she recalled. "You're seeing all these units on paper, but you're not seeing any people. . . . You can only blame it on bad record-keeping for so long."

Already, charities in Alabama have begun to worry about fallout. These are not easy times to raise money in the financially struggling state, and the Boy Scouts' woes may only compound the difficulties.

"Any scandal -- or the appearance of a scandal -- hurts all charities," said Steve Kirkpatrick, chief executive of the Madison County United Way chapter, which has given the Scouts' Greater Alabama Council more than $900,000 since 1998. "People use it as a reason not to give."

Yet, as the case unfolds, Scouts are still bucking for merit badges in Alabama, still reciting their oaths, even as their parents fret that the grown-ups' troubles will seep down into the psyches of the kids. The council is making plans, too, touting one of its next big events. It will be in March, and it is called "A Night of Honor."

Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

Scouting for the truth

January 24, 2005
Editorial
Birmingham News

Picture the scene: FBI agents sitting around, swapping war stories about chasing terrorists, bank robbers, drug dealers. Then, someone mentions the great Boy Scout caper. But before the agent can finish the story, she's drowned out by laughter from her skeptical colleagues.

Boy Scouts?

Why is the FBI investigating the Boy Scouts when there are real criminals out there, putting our citizens and nation at risk?

But the Boy Scout investigation is for real, and it's no laughing matter. The Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America has been accused of exaggerating its membership rolls to get more funding. If the allegations are true, the Boy Scouts organization is committing fraud and should be called to account for its actions.

Those who have been raising questions are not people with grudges against the Boy Scouts. They're people who have been deeply involved with scouting and say they love the organization.

Among them are people like Tom Willis, a Boy Scout board member, and longtime Scout volunteer Wayne Lee.

Lee, a white-collar crime detective for the Birmingham Police Department, has received mailings suggesting he is leading Scout groups he had nothing to do with. Likewise for his wife, Sandra Lee, who once received a mailing confirming the establishment of a new group she was leading at Tarrant High School, even though she'd never been to the school or met the children.

What would Scout leaders have to gain by inventing Scout groups and inflating membership numbers? Money, for starters. Higher membership counts make for bigger grants and donations. The United Way of Central Alabama alone has allocated about $950,000 to the Greater Alabama Council of Boy Scouts this year. Those who have given money to the Boy Scouts are entitled to know whether they've been duped.

Of course, at this point, the presumption must be that Scout leaders are innocent of any wrongdoing. But the accusations are serious enough that they demand an investigation and, if they are borne out, a reckoning.

Even if it takes the FBI to make it happen.

Federal agents probe allegations of 'ghost units' in Alabama Boy Scouts
By JAY REEVES
The Associated Press
1/22/2005

Boy Scout volunteer Tom Willis knew something was wrong when he saw that 20 kids on the list for a scouting program all had the same last name: Doe.

Willis, a former Eagle Scout who serves on the organizationīs board for the northeast Alabama area, said it appeared someone was listing fake members to increase enrollment, which could boost funding from agencies, make paid Boy Scout recruiters look better, or both.

"It was just so blatant. They didnīt even try to make up names," said Willis, a dentist from Decatur.

Amid suspicions that such practices are widespread in the Greater Alabama Boy Scout Council, federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records and agents are investigating whether bogus boys and "ghost units" fill the rosters of Boy Scout groups throughout northeast Alabama, where the council operates.

The FBI refused comment on any review, but the Irving, Texas-based council _ which claims it serves nearly 120,000 members and for 2002 reported revenues of $6.5 million _ this month confirmed it was under investigation. In a message posted on its Web site, council board chairman Randy Haines said Scout officials were cooperating with federal law enforcement and conducting an internal audit.

"Let me assure you that your executive committee considers these allegations to be very serious and is taking necessary and appropriate action," said the message from Haines, a banking executive.

An official at the Boy Scoutīs national office just outside Dallas said the organization has numerous policies meant to ensure that only real members and groups show up on rolls.

"The national council is dedicated to the accurate reporting of membership," said spokesman Greg Shields.

Yet longtime scout volunteer Larry Cox said he got used to seeing paperwork from council headquarters in Birmingham that listed the names of youngsters who had dropped out of scouting or never been part of a unit to begin with. At an area meeting of adult volunteers last year, he said, virtually every unit present reported names being added to their rolls.

The problem, Cox said, is with "a few people at the conference office," not volunteers who are out leading activities such as camping trips, service projects and "Pinewood Derby" car races.

"They always said it was because our paperwork had problems, but we knew it wasnīt," Cox said. "It seemed to be very broad."

The Greater Alabama Council has a strong reputation nationally: In 2002, it received a marketing award for a program that used fishing to bring in new members. The area office claimed 10,000 new Scouts that year, according to Scouting magazine, and tax forms show it had total revenues of $6.5 million, including $100,709 in government grants.

In a United Way funding application, the group said it served almost 120,000 youths and adults in 2003. Now, people like Cox and Willis wonder how many of those Scouts were real.

"I would say the numbers are probably inflated 30 to 40 percent in our council," said Willis.

Inflated membership numbers could lead to increased funding by groups including the United Way of Central Alabama, where spokeswoman Samuetta Nesbitt said officials have turned over the Boy Scoutsī grant applications, audits and tax forms from 1999 through last year in response to a federal subpoena.

The Scouts received millions of dollars from the United Way during the six years covered by the subpoena, and the Scouts are slated to get $940,855 this year. The Boy Scout probe has shaken the United Way, which Nesbitt said lacks the resources to verify all the information submitted by every group that seeks funding.

The council received another $919,000 from the United Way of Madison County since 1998, according to president Steve Kirkpatrick, who fears an investigation of the Boy Scouts could raise questions about charities in general.

"People figure, `If the Boy Scouts are doing it, what about the others?ī" said Kirkpatrick, who said the FBI hasnīt contacted his agency.

Nationally, the Boy Scouts claim 1.2 million adult leaders and 3.2 million youth members in six different programs: Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts and Venturers, the only one that allows young women.

But similar investigations have led to questions elsewhere about the true size of scouting. A membership inquiry in Texas led to a Scout group removing thousands of names from its membership rolls and a federal grand jury review that was revealed in 2003. No charges were filed.

In Atlanta, independent auditors are investigating claims the metro areaīs Boy Scouts inflated black membership numbers to 20,000 to gain more donations. A civil rights leader contends there are no more than 500 blacks actively involved.

Cox, who works with Scouts in Alabamaīs Blount County, said the idea that someone would overstate membership goes against what the Boy Scouts are supposed to be about.

"Being trustworthy and having integrity is one of the prime points of the Scouting oath," he said.

Couple's names put on phantom Scouting rolls
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
KELLI HEWETT TAYLOR and JEFF HANSEN
Birmingham News

A former Jefferson County Boy Scout leader says his and his wife's names have shown up in two nonexistent Boy Scout groups in the last five years.

Longtime Scout volunteer Wayne Lee, now of Jasper, said he and his wife, Sandra, have each been mailed copies of "charters," which are official letters establishing new Scout groups. The letters named the Lees as the leaders of the groups. The Lees were not.

Each letter they received was for a coed Scouting group called a Venturing Crew, for 14- to 21-year-olds. The Lees have worked only with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

"There needs to be accountability; the problem lies when you start lying," said Wayne Lee, a white-collar crime detective for the Birmingham Police Department.

In Birmingham, the FBI is investigating allegations that the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which includes Jefferson County, has padded membership rolls to boost grants and other financial contributions. United Way of Central Alabama has allocated about $950,000 to the council for 2005.

About five years ago, Sandra Lee received a copy of her charter in the mail, confirming the establishment of a crew with her as a leader. She was named with a group at Tarrant High School - a place she has never visited, with children she had never heard of.

She did not pursue answers to her charter letter.

Then, about two years ago, Wayne Lee said he received a charter confirmation letter for a Venturing Crew at First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, where his Boy Scout Troop 57 was based. The nonexistent Venturing crew included names of boys in his Scout troop and some of the adult volunteers of his Scout troop.

"We knew it was bogus the moment we saw it," Lee said of his crew charter letter.

Lee said he also received a confirmation letter of supposed financial support to Lee's Boy Scout Troop 57. Lee said he had received no such troop financial support, nor did his boys need it. Most were from more affluent families.

Lee wondered if a support check might have been written to his troop, or cashed by someone else.

"I went to see Ronnie Holmes," the Scout executive for the Greater Alabama Council, Lee said. "He said those (financial support) letters got sent out to all the units and it wasn't supposed to be."

Attempts by The Birmingham News to reach Holmes have been unsuccessful.

Wayne Lee said a few days after he talked to Holmes, an assistant called on behalf of Holmes.

"He said there had been some supervisor or executive who had given them some bad advice," Lee said. "He assured me nothing like that would ever happen again."

Greater Alabama Council officials declined to comment for this story.

The FBI last week subpoenaed Boy Scout records from the United Way of Central Alabama. FBI spokesman Jeff Fuqua said the investigation is a pending matter and the FBI will not comment on the case.

Alabama board members are conducting an internal audit, said 2005 board chairman Randy Haines, who is the Alabama commercial executive for Compass Bank. He declined to make additional comments for this report.

Mystery Scout groups have been reported for decades in similar investigations around the country in cities such as Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta.

Wayne Lee says the questions of "ghost troops" and other membership issues don't surprise him. He says for years it has been commonly known that district executives are under pressure to meet goals for new troops and members.

He is glad there is an investigation.

"This is going to be bad for Scouting on the public front, but good for Scouting in the long run - it's got to be fixed," Lee said.

FBI subpoenas Boy Scout records from United Way
Thursday, January 13, 2005
JEFF HANSEN and KELLI HEWETT TAYLOR
Birmingham News

The FBI this week subpoenaed Boy Scout records from the United Way of Central Alabama.

Samuetta Nesbitt, senior vice president for communications at United Way, said the FBI asked for copies of funding applications made by the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts since 1999.

Some Boy Scout board members have recently accused the Scout organization of padding its membership rolls.

Nesbitt said a United Way allocation team that met with the Boy Scouts on Oct. 19 did not raise any questions about membership numbers. "We, in effect, accept what the agencies tell us to be true, especially one going back to 1923."

In its application for 2005 funding of $975,044, the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts said it had served 119,449 unduplicated clients in 2003.

The United Way form asks agencies to break down their clients by age and sex. In its breakdown, the Scout document said the Boy Scouts served 33,458 males, ages 6 to 18, in Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Blount counties in 2003.

Roughly half of these were in the traditional Scouting program, which includes Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the co-ed Venture Crews for people ages 14-21. About one-third were in a Boy Scout program called Learning for Life, which includes school-centered character education and worksite-based Exploring. The remaining one-sixth were in a third Boy Scout program, an outreach to Hispanic youths.

The Scout council said it served:

7,506 boys ages 6-18 in Shelby County out of an estimated 15,320 boys that age.

23,387 boys 6-18 in Jefferson County out of an estimated 61,541.

1,638 boys 6-18 in Blount County out of an estimated 5,106.

927 boys 6-18 in St. Clair County out of an estimated 6,785 boys that age.

Tom Willis, a Boy Scout board member and former Eagle Scout who has called for an investigation into possible padding of Boy Scouts membership rolls, said that the Greater Alabama Council has refused to provide a breakdown of how many boys are in Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts in his district, which covers Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties.

The council is not responding to questions, but it has begun an internal audit of its membership numbers. Keith Williams, the endowment and marketing director for the council, said that all questions about the council will be handled by Randy Haines, its incoming board chairman. Haines declined to answer specific questions from The Birmingham News this week.

Nesbitt said that United Way has not started an internal review of the Greater Alabama Council.

According to the Boy Scout document, the 119,449 people that the council said it served include participants in programs in 22 Alabama counties. The breakdown:

57,247 boys aged 6-18.

10,751 girls aged 6-18.

34,553 men aged 19-59.

16,533 women aged 19-59.

229 men who were 60 or older.

136 women 60 or older.

Subpoena expected for Scout records
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
The Birmingham News
By: JEFF HANSEN and VIVI ABRAMS
 
The FBI has told United Way of Central Alabama it will subpoena documents relating to the Boy Scouts of America's Greater Alabama Council, Ellyn Grady, United Way's senior vice president for agency impact, said Monday.

Boy Scout board members last week announced the FBI was investigating the Greater Alabama Council to see if membership numbers have been inflated. Some board members have been concerned that membership levels are inflated and have asked for an independent audit.

Grady said that United Way will cooperate with FBI requests for documents.

"We hope that all these allegations are unfounded," she said. "Right now from our records we have no indication there is any need for a federal investigation. But I also have to admire a board of directors who are willing to challenge their own agency."

The Greater Alabama Council's offices were closed Monday, and attempts to reach council leaders were unsuccessful.

Over the past 10 years, United Way of Central Alabama has allocated $8.1 million to the Greater Alabama Council, including $940,855 for 2005, United Way records show. This is about 15 percent of the council's current operating budget. Program revenue, fund-raising drives and sales of merchandise are other sources of income.

Although the FBI in Birmingham has made no comment on its probe, an investigation by the U.S. Postal Service and a federal grand jury in Dallas that began five years ago centered on whether the Boy Scout chapter there had padded its memberships to justify higher donation requests.

Numbers, funding cut:

The two-year mail fraud probe resulted in the Dallas-area Boy Scout chapter cutting its membership claims from 52,000 to 33,527. In response, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas cut its funding for the chapter by 20 percent.

The Greater Alabama Council is said to serve 50,000 youngsters in 22 counties in central and northern Alabama. This includes 30,000 enrolled in traditional Scout units and 20,000 elementary school pupils receiving in-class character education using resources provided by the Boy Scouts, said Randy Haines, vice chairman of the council, which is led by paid directors and a volunteer board.

On Monday, Boy Scout leaders and volunteers from around the country said that the Alabama allegations, if true, reflect Boy Scout membership padding practices that have led to investigations in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Illinois.

"It is rare and to their credit that council board members speak out about BSA finances and operations," said Jay Thal, a Scout leader in Washington. He said he became an Eagle Scout 50 years ago and has seen many instances of financial misconduct and inflated membership numbers at the organization's administrative level.

'Ghost troops':

Tom Willis, a Greater Alabama Council executive board member, has gathered with a large group of volunteers to ask the council for information about membership numbers and finances. According to Willis and others, pressure on district leaders to maintain or increase numbers of Scouts is so great that some have pored through phone books to find names to include in false troops, which are sometimes called "ghost units."

Others have found roadblocks to information flow.

Ralph Stark, a Scout leader at a church in Locust Fork, said he got a negative response last month after he asked the Greater Alabama Council for a list of the Scout leaders in the region.

He said he sent an e-mail, a fax and a registered letter to the council before receiving a response. When he sent a letter to Executive Director Ron Holmes about his displeasure with the delay, two Boy Scout officials came to his church to speak with his pastor.

Stark said that even though the two did not say it outright, he felt they were there to keep him from asking more questions. Pastor Roy White agreed.

"Whatever their motives were, I don't know," White said. "I kind of got the idea after it was all over that they wanted him to be quiet."

Haven't seen padding:

Some Birmingham area district executives said they have not seen any membership padding.

"Our job description is to sign up units. We help with the fund-raising," said Ernesto Obregon, who works in the Vulcan District, which includes the over-the-mountain communities of Homewood, Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook. "As with any sales force, our job is to maintain volume and level."

Every December, district executives are supposed to visit each unit in the district to see which ones want to recharter. Obregon, an Episcopal priest, said he has visited half to three-fourths of the troops and expects to finish in mid-January. So far , all are real, he said. If a troop does not recharter, it's supposed to be dropped from the rolls, he said.

"I've never been pressured for things like ghost units," he said. "Part of it might be my background. They wouldn't even bother."

The Associated Press
12/30/2004, 3:30 p.m. CT

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Officials with the Boy Scouts of America say the FBI is investigating whether the organization has inflated its membership numbers in north Alabama, a move that could lead to greater financial support.

Randy Haines, vice chairman of the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts, confirmed the review but denied any wrongdoing.

"We take the allegations seriously," Haines told The Birmingham News in a story published Thursday. "We are a highly principled organization, and irregularities are totally out of character."

But another board member, Tom Willis, said the charges of discrepancies in membership numbers were not only accurate but widespread across the country. So-called "ghost units" are encouraged by the national Boy Scouts of America organization's pressure on district leaders to keep increasing the number of scouting groups, he said.

FBI spokesman Ray Zicarelli said the agency could neither confirm nor deny any investigation of the group.

Haines said the FBI contacted the council two weeks ago about allegations of possible inaccuracies in membership figures. About the same time, Haines said he and other scout officials began hearing similar word-of-mouth reports.

The United Way, which helps fund the Boy Scouts, also is familiar with the investigation, said spokeswoman Samuetta Nesbitt. Scouting has asked for $940,855 from the charity for 2005, she said.

"United Way's leadership is aware that the FBI has made an inquiry into the reporting procedures of the Greater Birmingham Council of Boy Scouts of America," she said. "We do not have any details about the inquiry."

The council is said to serve 50,000 youngsters in 22 counties in central and northern Alabama. This includes 30,000 enrolled in traditional scout units and 20,000 elementary school students receiving in-class character education using resources provided by the Boy Scouts, said Haines.

Willis said he recently saw a roster of 135 units in his home district, which includes Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties. Only about half the groups were real, traditional groups, he contends. "I pretty much know what units are out there," he said.

He said donations garnered through inflated numbers go to funding the central administration and not individual troops or programs for children.

Willis said the FBI investigation follows a growing distrust by some volunteers of the paid leadership of the council. That distrust was magnified by the recent debate over whether to spend $5.6 million to acquire land for a "super camp" to replace smaller, regional camps, he said.

While looking into the camp, the council and scouting leaders discussed waning attendance at scouting camps and questions about the number of reported scouts arose among scout troop leaders. When they tried to get answers, they were denied information, Willis said.

Haines said the Boy Scouts are doing an internal audit.


FBI Investigates Birmingham Boy Scouts Council - Serves About 30,000 Scouts Through Northern Alabama

From nbc13.com:
http://www.nbc13.com/news/4031561/detail.html
POSTED: 11:39 pm CST December 28, 2004
UPDATED: 11:49 am CST December 29, 2004

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Birmingham Boy Scout office confirmed Tuesday that an FBI investigation of their office is under way.

Officials are simply calling the probe an inquiry. The FBI first contacted the organization last Thursday.  

Officials won't say what is being investigated. Both the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI told NBC13 they couldn't comment.

Boy Scout Council representatives said the federal government's inquiry involves alleged record keeping violations, particularly alleged attempts to inflate scout membership numbers to qualify for more federal funds.

"We are audited annually by independent accountants and we have several self-implemented auditing procedures that exceed those suggested by the national BSA," said Keith Williams, marketing director of the Greater Birmingham council. "We take these concerns very seriously and have formed independent committees to look into these matters and we are cooperating fully with the inquiry."

The greater Birmingham council serves 22 counties in northern Alabama totaling about 30,000 scouts. 

 

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