By Jeff Rainforth
Email Harris County TX District Attorney, Devon Anderson, and tell her to bring criminal charges.
Email: [email protected]
Her site http://app.dao.hctx.net/OurOffice/DevonAndersonBio.aspx
Cody Wright began to cry uncontrollably. Cody was a school counselor who was meeting with the parents of a child she was supposed to help, and with the school’s vice-principal. She was having a breakdown at work. It wasn’t work that caused the breakdown, though. It was Meredith Iler, the founder of Helping a Hero (HAH) veteran’s charity. Iler had threatened to sue Cody’s husband, Sergeant Eddie Wright for defamation and slander. Iler also threatened to launch a vicious smear campaign in the media attacking his character and integrity. Sgt. Wright, a former Marine, had lost both of his hands in Iraq, and had served on the board of Helping a Hero. Eddie had uncovered what he believed were improprieties on the part of Iler, and a history of abuse of wounded veterans and their families. He began blowing the whistle on Iler, and Iler set out to destroy Eddie & his family. Here is the shocking and disturbing story of how one woman, in a quest for fame and social status, used severely wounded veterans & their families as pawns, tools, and fodder, in order to secure a better life for herself.
Helping a Hero started off on what seemed to be the right foot. Local news touted the charity’s generous donations of fully adapted homes to wounded veterans, while only asking the recipient cover a $50k mortgage. Thankful veterans praised the charity for giving them a “hand-up” after enduring the pains of war. But soon after, reports began surfacing that all was not what it seemed with the organization.
The charity’s founder, Meredith Iler, descends from millionaire real estate moguls, and was once married to former Nebraska Congressman John Lynn Christensen. Iler is known as an accomplished fundraiser, and once worked as an event organizer for a firm that was tasked with revamping Saudi Arabia’s image on the world stage. While the charity Iler founded, Helping a Hero, states that its primary purpose is to “provide specially adapted homes for qualifying service members,” many wounded warriors have come forward saying that the organization, and specifically Iler, have done the opposite. Accusations levied against Iler include ones that she: Belittled veterans who questioned her handling of the charity’s finances, embezzled from the charity, spent money meant for vets on personal expenses, engaged in smear campaigns against veterans, pressured veteran’s families to sell products from a multi-level marketing company she was involved in so she could reap the rewards, and threatening to give homes promised to wounded veterans to others who would support her. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look at what some wounded warriors have to say about Iler, and Helping a Hero.
Staff Sergeant Chaz Allen
Jessica Allen, wife of Staff Sergeant Chaz Allen who lost both legs in Afghanistan, wrote about Iler on her blog (Note: Jessica does not mention Iler or HAH in her blog, but a quick Google search makes it clear who she is referring to):
“I think I have cried more this year than I did four years ago. We allowed this person into our lives. We allowed them to set us up for failure. They made promises to them directly. They glamored (sic) them with things we truly believe they never intended on actually doing. Chaz and I could have chosen to have played the victim card. We could have gone to the media and smashed the person who failed us. We have had several offers to do so, but we will continue to choose the high road. The high road has been hard and painful and full of tears…”
Jessica & Chaz were promised a specially adapted home by Meredith Iler through Helping a Hero. They put up a $50,000 mortgage on $600,000 home. A groundbreaking ceremony was held, with media in tow, and then, Meredith disappeared. Jessica & Chaz didn’t know what to do.
Jessica writes about the impact that the broken promises had on her & Chaz’ children. “Our girls have been hearing about “the house” since September 2012. For 2 years now we have talked about how things will be easier “when we get the house built for Dad.” Our girls have watched almost all of their friends PCS (permanent change of station) out of the area. They have made new friends only for them to PCS too. They’ve watched their Dad get hurt in our home again and again and again. They are tired of talking; they are ready for this house to actually happen.”
Jessica continued: “Both of our girls have had the hardest time dealing with the fact that people came to our home (both current and to the land) and made promises to help our family and then broke those promises. It is a topic of conversation that just fizzed out when we went to write the names on the wood a few months ago. Now our girls understand that we are building with the help and support of others. I think they have more pride in our home because we are building it ourselves. I know Chaz and I do. I am pleased to say they are finally excited about the house again. They have watched their Dad get hurt again and again in this home and they want the house for him as much as I do.”
Eventually, Chaz & Jessica gave up on Iler and Helping a Hero, and began building their own adapted home with their own money, and that of other donors.
Sgt. Eddie Wright, USMC
In 2004, Sgt. Wright was struck by a rocket propelled grenade during an ambush in Fallujah, Iraq. This resulted in the immediate loss of both of his hands, and severe damage to his left leg. He recovered at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD and Walter Reed Medical Center. In 2010, Sgt. Wright received a home from Helping a Hero. The following year he served on the board of the charity. Less than a year later, he resigned his position after discovering improprieties committed by Meredith Iler.
Of Iler’s unethical actions, Sgt. Wright writes:
• She pressured home recipients, home applicants and their spouses to sign up underneath her as sales representatives in a multi-level marketing business called Arbonne
• Iler did not allow board members any access to financial records after repeated requests
• Inability of veterans to obtain mortgages due to restrictive HAH requirements and contracts
• Lack of handicapped accessible adaptations promised to veterans
• Home recipients having to hold mortgages far in excess of $50,000 all the way up to some having mortgages in excess of $250,000 while HAH publicly states veteran has $50,000 mortgages (One example of misleading donors and applicants)
On Iler’s recruiting home recipients to be salespeople under her for multi-level marketing business “Arbonne,” he writes:
“Many veterans and many spouses, including my wife Cody, after rejecting the sales pitch from Iler repeatedly, eventually relented and signed up. Iler wouldn’t take no for an answer, and many recipients who were still waiting for their homes to be built, didn’t feel like they had the option of saying no. It was a hard sales pitch to individuals who felt indebted to HAH and Iler and who were in reality in a position where she had a great deal of power over deciding the future of their homes and lives. The tremendous pressure and non-stop inundation of phone calls and visits to our home for the purpose of signing my wife up for Arbonne under Iler caused a great deal of stress for my wife and I both. My wife felt somewhat obligated to oblige Iler. We finally decided that we would buy the minimum amount of Arbonne product just to stop the harassment. Unfortunately that minimum ballooned into over $1700.”
Sgt. Wright along with other directors took his concerns to the board. A vote was held on whether Iler should be allowed to recruit veterans in the program to sign up for Arbonne underneath her. Iler abstained from the vote, left the room, and the board unanimously voted to ban her from recruiting veterans for profit or mingling Arbonne with Helping a Hero, (Details of the vote are in the minutes from the meeting). Shortly after, Sgt. Wright and other directors resigned from the board. Iler at that point began harassing Sgt. Wright and his wife, Cody.
Iler called Sgt. Wright’s wife (Cody) at the school she worked at. She threatened to sue her husband, and millionaire philanthropist Carolyn Farb who had contributed to HAH, but had concerns about how the money was being spent. Iler then began a smear campaign against Sgt. Wright and his wife. Iler would call donors, and tell them that Sgt. Wright was an alcoholic, that he beat his wife, and that it wasn’t safe for his child to be left alone with him. Shortly after Iler called Cody, she had an emotional breakdown at work, and eventually quit her job.
Cody recalls the troubling time.
Shattered Lives, Shattered Wives
“It was during an already extraordinarily stressful period for our family and for me professionally when Meredith Iler called me at my work and asked me if I had read Eddie’s letter of resignation from the board of directors of HAH. Iler then threatened a lawsuit and informed me that she would be ‘forced’ to embark on a public smear campaign of my very proud wounded Marine husband.”
“I could feel my heart racing inside of my chest. I remember leaning over my desk with my eyes squeezed closed, my grip growing tighter and tighter on the telephone in one hand while I rested my head in the palm of my other hand trying to process what she was telling me. I could feel the tightness in my chest and throat and my heart pounding faster and faster as the reality of what she was saying set in. I remember sitting there in silence with my adrenaline pumping while I listened with a clenched jaw, my anger slowly rising up inside of me until it filled and overwhelmed me entirely.”
“When she finished talking, I collected my thoughts the best I could, and then choked out a response. I said, ‘I’m sorry, but did you just say if Eddie writes anything else questioning you and HAH or goes public with any information, you are going to be ‘forced’ to ‘publically expose’ his ‘drinking problem?’ Her response was yes. I remember feeling like the whole conversation was surreal and I asked Iler, ‘You mean publicly, as in, the newspaper publicly?’ Again her response was yes. I remember her saying that she wouldn’t have a choice to which I responded that yes she did have a choice. I remember telling her, ‘I can’t believe you would do that. I can’t believe you just said that to me.’ I remember feeling like I was going to explode at this point. I hung up the phone and sat there in my chair stunned, shaking and speechless. Meredith Iler just threatened to sue my husband and publicly humiliate him to save her sinking ship, Helpingahero.org.”
Mrs. Wright continued:
“The stress of what was occurring with Meredith Iler, Helping a Hero, my husband, and me being stuck in the middle and used like a playing card in her game, overwhelmed me, and in that moment, I broke. I snapped. I remember starting to cry in front of the parents and my Vice Principal as they spoke. It felt surreal, like it wasn’t even me in that room. It felt like the whole world was caving in on me in that moment. I had been so busy beating myself up already for trusting Iler, and when these parents started to tear into me, the weight of it all was finally too much to bear. “
“I remember my vice principal trying to stand up for me and telling me it was okay. I said something to the effect of it was not okay and I didn’t have time to deal with it during the middle of state testing. I basically said all of the things you usually want to say to parents but you just think instead of actually saying out loud! I think I said I didn’t get paid enough to have to listen to them belittle me when I in reality had spent a great deal of time, effort and had gone above and beyond to help their child. I just lost it.”
“I ran out of my office crying and spent the next fifteen minutes locked in my principal’s private bathroom crying hysterically with my secretary, Andrea Coleman trying to console me. She kept asking me what was wrong over and over, and all I could do was cry and repeat, ‘It’s too much. It’s too much. I can’t handle this. I can’t do this.’ It was absolutely the most embarrassed and humiliated I think I have ever been.”
“Shortly after Iler’s threatening phone call to me, she began a spin campaign to discredit Eddie’s concerns and try to explain away his resignation from the organization. How do we know this? Donors began calling Eddie and asking him if we were okay and if we were getting divorced. I was absolutely stunned. Meredith Iler was calling donors and people we knew through Helping a Hero and telling them that I wanted to leave Eddie, that we were having marital problems, and that we were getting divorced! She was telling them that Eddie ‘is an alcoholic’ and that I ‘can’t leave him alone with the baby.’ Once again, I was floored, absolutely beside myself with disbelief. I didn’t want to leave Eddie or divorce Eddie, and while Eddie does enjoy drinking with his Marine buddies, Eddie is not an alcoholic. Even if it had been true, the head of a veteran’s organization should never use a wounded combat veteran’s personal psychological struggle with PTSD as a weapon against the veteran they proclaim to be “helping.” I love my husband, and that is why at one point I was desperately trying to find someone who could mentor us, support us, and just love and guide us. PTSD is not something that can be ‘fixed’ or ‘cured,’ it has to be managed.” This whole turn of events crushed me and created even more stress, more tension, and more emotional turmoil for me, Eddie, and subsequently our children.”
“At a football game in Houston in October of 2013, we ran into another leader of a non-profit who remembered us and invited us to eat with them. This lady asked how we were and if we were still involved with Helping a Hero. She proceeded to tell us that recently, sometime in 2013, Meredith had told her that Eddie and I were divorcing, that Eddie could not be left alone with our then 2 year old daughter, and that Eddie, ‘beats’ me. This woman stated that Iler told her that Eddie had severe PTSD and was ‘taking it out on her (Iler).’ Again, all of the feelings of anger and frustration came rushing back. In a moment I went from having a great time with my husband to speechless, red faced and angry. I stood there in a crowd of people having to state that every single statement Iler made to this woman was a lie. Over two years after Iler began slandering Eddie and I, she was still doing it, and I was still having to defend our marriage, our family, and my husband. No, Eddie did not ‘beat’ me. No we were not divorcing. Yes, I could absolutely trust him with our daughter, and he is a wonderful father.”
In May of 2014, Iler filed a lawsuit against former board member U.S. Army colonel (Ret) Karen Lloyd, and an employee who worked closely with Iler. The employee is a retired Army veteran, and a wounded warrior. Both Karen and the employee had been speaking publically about all of the problems wounded veterans were having with Meredith Iler and Helping a Hero. What she observed Iler doing with donor money meant for wounded veterans is disturbing to say the least.
According to the employee, Meredith Iler would purchase makeup from the multi-level marketing business (Arbonne) she was involved in. Funds from Helping a Hero would be used for the purchases, and Iler got a commission for every “sale.”
The employee also reported that checks were written to Iler for HAH expenses, but that no receipts for the expenses were provided. No one knew what the money was used for. Iler would also use donor money meant for wounded veterans for “extravagant hotel stays, meals, hair appointments, spa treatments and hotel accommodations.” The employee notes that donations of airplane tickets from Southwest Airlines that were for veterans to use, were not turned in or tracked. No one knows what happened to them. According to the employee, Iler forced wounded veterans to attend political events so she could “parade” them to others in order to make herself look good. Dubose submitted documents to several members of Congress detailing the fact that Meredith Iler had received over $400,000 in “reimbursement” checks for expenses that Iler provided no receipts for.
Wounded Vets Are Money Makers
I do not care where or how a soldier lost a leg or both legs as long as I can parade them around and make money off of them.
Perhaps the most disgusting thing about Meredith Iler is how she viewed and treated severely wounded veterans. According to the former employee, she personally heard Iler tell members of the board of HAH that, “I do not care where or how a soldier lost a leg or both legs as long as I can parade them around and make money off of them.” Iler once told the employee that “PTSD is just a way to get money from the government.” Iler also told her that she was not concerned about the monthly income of veterans because they got “paid” by the VA. Apparently Iler’s attitude towards wounded veterans extended to her own family.
I Want To Be Secretary Of The VA
The employee recounts a time when she and Iler attended a groundbreaking ceremony for Sgt. Brian Fleming (U.S. Army). Iler informed the employee that she had rented a car to drive to a tea party at Barbara Bush’s house where Ann Romney was holding an event for her husband Mitt who was running for president. Iler was going to lobby to be appointed Secretary of the VA in the event Romney won the election. Iler told the employee that “I really do not care if my kids or my husband like Washington DC. They can stay here so I can make a life there and regain some status in life.”
The employee told Iler that her lobbying efforts using HAH funds were inappropriate. She states that the rental car was secured with HAH money, and that she believes Iler used the charity’s money for lobbying. Iler responded to the employee saying, “It really does not matter what you think. I am going to do this. I will not miss this opportunity. I really do not care.”
According to the employee, Iler regularly pressured her and other wounded veterans to fund raise for political events that Iler attended.
Army SPC Russ Rodriguez
Specialist Rodriguez joined the Army in 2004. He deployed to Iraq shortly after. While there, he was poisoned by contaminated water and became extremely ill. He suffers from post-traumatic stress, and has permanent injuries to his foot.
Rodriguez received a home from HAH in 2012. The organization was supposed to build a specially adapted home for him, but opted to allow him to live in a home that another veteran was kicked out of because they “couldn’t control his PTSD.”
Specialist Rodriguez states that he does not own the home, nor have the title to it. HAH refused to work with him so he could show home ownership, and obtain a loan through another organization.
He writes that Meredith Iler tried unsuccessfully to get his wife to buy products from the multi-level marketing business she was involved in. Iler then used his wife’s name to purchase products with the charity’s money. Iller profited from all sales made by those under her. Iler was using money that was donated to Helping a Hero to purchase products that she was selling. Money that was donated to help wounded veterans, was in fact going into her pocket.
Rodriguez reported that Iler added on costs to his home, without notice, and when she was asked about the expenses, she replied, “it’s interest for living in the home.”
Specialist Rodriguez let loose a final volley on Meredith Iler. The wounded warrior writes: “Meredith Iller says that HaH is an organization that builds specially adapted homes for wounded veterans but that is far from the truth. She blackmails and threatens spouses. She crushes already wounded veterans with false hope, and expects us to take a grateful attitude for her exploiting our injuries.”
Sgt. 1st Class Scott Lathan
In March 2006, an IED hit Sgt. Lathan’s Humvee while on patrol in Balad, Iraq. Shrapnel hit him on his face and neck.
When Sgt. Lathan arrived stateside, doctors at Fort Carson found that had traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder. His knees required multiple surgeries, and he had severe spinal damage.
Meredith Iler invited Sgt. Lathan and his family to a groundbreaking ceremony for their new home. When the home wasn’t ready at the time Iler said it would be, Lathan and his family were forced to stay in hotels, and temporary housing. It put a major strain on his family.
Sergeant Lathan was eventually told that the house he was promised would be much smaller, and that his mortgage would be over twice what he was told it would be.
He states that he was also charged for furniture, while other veterans didn’t have to pay for home furnishings:
“We have been charged $15,323.49 for furniture and we have proof that Meredith didn’t pay that amount for it, she paid $13,591.63. The price she is charging us is full price and she got a discount. Regardless of the price of the furniture, I don’t know of anybody in the program that has had to pay for their furniture.”
Meredith Iler originally told Sgt. Lathan his mortgage would $50,000. The final mortgage was $120,000, for a much smaller home.
Because Iler won’t allow Sgt. Lathan the title to the home he has been allowed to live in, he has been unable to obtain homeowners insurance. He worries day and night that if something should happen to his home, his wife and children would be left out in the cold, with no one to help them.
Many other wounded veterans are in the same position as he and his family are in. “I’m speaking out on behalf of veterans who aren’t, I know of other families — upward of ten or more — who have walked away from this organization in the last year, year-and-a-half,” Lathan said.
Staff Sgt. Ken Patterson
Sergeant Patterson lost both legs in Afghanistan in 2010. A rocket propelled grenade landed inside the Chinook helicopter he was in. He almost died from loss of blood. Aside from serving in Afghanistan, he completed three tours in Iraq.
Sergeant Patterson was promised a home by Meredith Iller and HAH. The home was to sit on two lots as it needed to be larger than normal homes because of the adaptions needed to accommodate him.
Meredith Iller invited Sgt. Patterson to a gala to raise funds for his house. He was asked for pictures of his injuries in order to promote his story. Patterson was under the impression that the funds for his home had already been raised, and he told Iller to stop giving his family a “run around.”
When Sgt. Patterson finally got his home, it was half the size promised, and had no front or back yards as Iller had told media outlets there would be. Patterson was very upset that his son had no yard to play in. On top of everything he went through dealing with Iller, the mortgage which was supposed to be $50,000, ended up being over twice the amount, $117,000.
Eventually, Sergeant Patterson felt he had no other choice but to give up the home as it did not suit the needs himself, or his family. He states: “The fact that WE have been LIED to over and over by Helping a Hero for the last 2 years has now put me in a position to walk away from them. I feel “Helping a Hero” DOES NOT have our best interest in mind right now. “
Senior Airman Brandon Byers
Airman Byers and his wife, Megan, received a home from Ilers and HAH in 2014. Byers would eventually serve as HAH’s interim executive director for about three months. Of his time with the organization Byer’s says, “it was just long enough to see other veterans forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars more for homes than they were led to believe they would.”
Byers states, “It’s like building a cancer hospital for children, and then when the kids walk through the front door, they are given a bill.”
Byers’ wife, Megan Byers said of HAH, “”This organization led us to believe all of these grand things that they had no intention of fulfilling.”
Airman Byers tried to get information as to why wounded veterans had to hand over so much money to the charity before moving into their homes, but Meredith Iler would not give him any answers.
Of Ilers and HAH Byers states: “I can take a roadside bomb. I can take a hit, and I can keep on coming. You can do a lot to me, and I’ll brush it off and keep going, but when you start doing things that affect my family… that’s when I have a huge issue.”
The charity (Smiles Charity) that donated $100,000 to HAH for Byers’ home asked for the money back when news of the organization’s & Ilers’ improprieties came to light.
Airman Byers and his wife walked away from their home after many stressful months of dealing with Iler. Brandon tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with her over the $120,000 mortgage. Helping a Hero states that mortgages for wounded veterans are only $50,000. Had Brandon agreed to the $120,000 price tag, HAH would have made a substantial profit off of him. The total cost to build the house was around $150,000, $100,000 of which had already been donated by Smiles Charity.
Brandon and his wife walked away as the stress of dealing with Meredith and her unreasonable demands were stealing their peace of mind.
Audit of Helping a Hero
In 2014, Dolcefino Consulting was contracted to audit Helping a Hero’s financial records. The group filed a request for the charity’s documents, and HAH “initially refused instructions by the Harris County District Attorney, Devon Anderson, to release all the required records.”
When HAH was told by Anderson that they would face prosecution if the records weren’t turned over, some documents were sent to the offices of Dolcefino. The consulting group found that: “Ms. Iler breached her financial duty as recognized by the rules governing non –profits in her purchase of Arbonne supplies, and more importantly her attempts to solicit veteran’s wives and girlfriends as Arbonne vendors, since Ms. Iler stood to benefit from their financial participation.”
Dolcefino also reported that Iler “did not utilize the expense report available to HAH personnel, but instead turned in typed expense reports.” The group reported that “without receipts for tens of thousands of dollars in purchases made, the charity would have no way to identify transactions that may be personal in nature, or verify through audit that the veteran’s identified were the actual recipients of these purchases.”
The Dolcefino report also notes that:
• Helping a Hero provided check No. 3027 to pay a $53,976 American Express bill. Helping a Hero has no detailed American Express Statement for that
period in the records provided
• A comparison of checks from the HAH check ledger to the general ledger spreadsheet includes a $15,000 check to Meredith Iler for gala expenses for which there is no apparent documentation
• The ledger appears to show the Helping a Hero charity does not contribute $100,000 to each of the homes
• Gift cards totaling more than $42, 000 were directly purchased by Iler for unidentified veterans, although the lack of receipts makes the official number impossible to determine. There are no records detailing the use of, or recipients of these gift cards
• HAH’s 2011 tax return identifies 354 wounded warriors who were helped directly by the organization. The review of financial records provided by HAH identify only 40 veterans by their “veteran number” having received some level of support, but some veteran support consisted of primarily sending paperwork through mail services
Since 2011, there has been an almost 100% turnover of HAH’s directors, and a revolving door of executive directors. The most recent resignation was that of Lt. Col. (Ret) Jeff Ragland. Ragland served as HAH’s executive director from April 2014 – May 2015. With no accountability, and the lack of a credible system of checks and balances, one person (Meredith Iler) holds the strings, and all the power over the heads of wounded veterans.
Iler Stops News Report on HAH’s Finances
Katie McCall, formerly a reporter for Fox channel 26 in Houston, was asked by her news director to cover the Helping a Hero story. One of her then coworkers, Don Teague, an anchor at the station, formerly served on the board of HAH, and is friends with Meredith Iler. According to McCall, she believes that Teague spoke with her boss, and had the story quashed on behalf of Iler.
While Meredith Iler is no longer the executive director of Helping a Hero, she still runs the organization from behind the scenes (according to sources). According to a former board member, Meredith and her husband, Marshall, are paying themselves a combined monthly salary of around $18,000.
Harris County District Attorney, Devon Anderson, is threatening criminal charges against the charity unless all financial documents are released.
Helping A Hero, Meredith Iler failed to meet the court ruled deadline for disclosure of the financials and Harris County District Attorney has yet to file charges. Read about the misuse of funds here