Pasco Veterans Charity reorganizes after its former leader was convicted of assault and battery

HOLIDAYS ― Hoping to leave behind the sad chapter of a leader who smeared the name of his organization, the Board of Directors of Veterans Alternative issued a letter to the community and customers this week apologizing for their “inaction” over the past few months and announcing a new direction.

“As a board of directors, we want to stand with victims of harassment and violence and assure you that we will not tolerate this type of behavior in our organization,” the statement read. “While we cannot change the past, we are moving forward with new leadership in place and a strong commitment to accountability, transparency and integrity.”

Veterans Alternative, a nonprofit that provides alternative therapies and community engagement to veterans struggling with a return to civilian life, was co-founded by Brian Anderson, himself a decorated veteran. Last month, Anderson was convicted of battery by massage therapist Mariah King. He is currently serving a 120-day prison sentence. He also faces a felony drug charge for a controlled substance that authorities allege he possessed on the day of his sentencing.

Three other women who worked for Veterans Alternative in the past came forward after King filed his police report. They each said Anderson made unwanted sexual advances on them.

Anderson resigned as the charity’s chief executive on the day of his trial. Two other leaders of the organization, Pat Fried and Chris Sowell, now share the position of interim general manager.

Fried said Wednesday that the board insisted on making the statement public to the community to demonstrate that it was deeply committed to its core mission of helping veterans and stressed that “accountability, transparency and integrity are vital to our organization”.

Former Board Chairman Thomas May and former Vice Chairman Patricia Thompson have also left the Veterans Alternative leadership team. Fried, Sowell, and all of the other Veterans Alternative employees got together to hire a lawyer to represent them and call for May and Thompson’s ouster in the weeks leading up to Anderson’s trial.

They argued that the two had “engaged in a pattern of conduct for the sole purpose of protecting Mr. Anderson and his personal interests, instead of exercising their fiduciary duties”.

May and Thompson tendered their resignations last week.

Veterans Alternative’s statement also thanked its staff, volunteers and donors for continuing to support the organization “through the public struggles of the past year”.

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New members added to the board are Steve DeMatos, a combat veteran and longtime supporter of the organization, and Nicole Stroebel, with more than 25 years leading a nonprofit organization. They will be the co-chairs of Veterans Alternative.

Fried said that with the changes, “all of our staff now feel 100% supported by current board members.”

May shared her resignation letter with the Tampa Bay Weather. In it, he said: “I believe this is the best course of action for the organization to move forward and for my family and I to focus our efforts elsewhere. I do this with a pure heart and sincerely wish the best to the organization, staff and volunteers. I sincerely hope that Veterans Alternative will continue to be a long term provider of much needed services and I will never smear or smear their efforts.

He also said that previously the board had discussed other options for the future of Veterans Alternative in the event that staff resign or the board is forced to temporarily or permanently close due to a lack of funding.

Fried said Veterans Alternative received a positive response to his statement this week. She said staff have been honest with customers over the past few months about their Anderson-related challenges.

Janel Norton, who co-founded Veterans Alternative with Anderson but left in 2017 because no one wanted to follow up on concerns she raised about him, said she also hopes the organization can now start going forward.

She visited the charity’s office last Friday for the first time in months. Norton said there was a different feeling there now. “Everything felt light, like the place had been well appointed,” she said. Even a client leaving after a therapy session was joking with the staff.

“I really hope the new board and new staff can restore the reputation,” Norton said. “I know what they’re doing really works and it’s needed. It is so necessary.

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