The Massachusetts Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday asked a judge to order Post 144, possibly no longer on Hanover Street in the North End, to immediately hand over its financial books for a deep audit of what's been going on with all the money the post has collected in recent years - with several hundred thousand dollars, including money meant to help veterans in need, unaccounted for.
The suit, filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court against the post and its leaders, also asks a judge to freeze all of the post's assets. It comes after the statewide VFW suspended the charter of the North End post, at first for failing to file required quarterly financial statements or even say where it was holding post meetings, but later for money the VFW says should have been in the post's accounts, but weren't, which the post allegedly tried to hide by "knowingly submitting fraudulent reports."
In its suit, the VFW charged what's left of the North End post, which first received its VFW charter to open in 1922, is now being run out of post Quartermaster Paul Spera's Attleboro home. Spera, whose role essentially made him the post treasurer, the post commander and two other post leaders were also named in the suit.
In its complaint, the VFW says it initially discovered some financial irregularities when it began to investigate "multiple complaints of harassment by Spera" this past May - and that the investigation quickly found "Spera was engaging in a pattern of harassment toward VFW-MA staff and other VFW members" - and that there was something funny with what financial records it was able to see.
On May 23, the VFW in Massachusetts suspended the post's charter for up to 90 days and set up a committee to oversee post operations during that period - including all of its expenditures and any property transfers.
The Post was directed to provide the Administrative Committee with access to all Post records and prohibited from engaging in any financial transactions without the Administrative Committee's permission.
The VFW says that Jody Freitas, now senior vice commander of the Massachusetts organization, quickly found "significant discrepancies" in what post records the organization could find, dating back to 2016, among them, "the beginning balances did not match the ending balances," that the post omitted records from its savings accounts from the reports, that "signatures from the same individual differed substantially between financial reports" and that nobody certified the reports, as required. Also: "Substantial funds were received and expended through the Post's relief fund during certain quarters such as June 2018, June 2018 and December 2019 without proper documentation."
The complaint continues that the post lost its federal tax-exempt status in 2018 and failed to report receipts to the IRS - and stopped filing required annual corporate forms with Massachusetts after 2021.
On May 31, the VFW suspended Spera from any VFW activity and ordered him to turn over all of the post's financial records the next day. According to the suit, he didn't, but instead sent a letter on June 5 saying the post was "working diligently to rectify any shortcomings that require our attention" and asking that the post's suspension be lifted.
The VFW denied the request because the post didn't comply with the June 1 demand for records, in a letter in which Spera was reminded he himself was suspended and demanding that the post commander name a replacement for him immediately.
On July 17, the suit continues, Spera filed "certain documents" that did not contain everything the VFW had demanded - and "amended" audits for 2022 that "contradicted the sums contained in previously submitted audit reports."
For example, the Post submitted an Audit Report in March 2023 for the quarter ending December 31, 2022 which represented a net cash balance of $88,383.64 at the end of that quarter. In stark contrast, the "amended" Audit Report submitted in July 2023 showed a net cash balance of $542,678.22 at the end of that quarter.
The two sides then went back and forth over the VFW's attempts to set up meetings - at the State House - with the post leaders to discuss the post's finances and audits to no avail, the complaint states. On Sept. 5, the VFW's lawyers sent one last letter to set up a meeting. When post leaders did not respond, the group began girding for court action.
In addition to asking for access to the post's books, the VFW is now also seeking damages for the post's alleged failure to follow national and statewide VFW rules, which means the VFW has "suffered serious economic damage, including, but not limited to, attorney's fees and costs" - as well as damage to its good name.
The post has until Jan. 12 to file its answer to the lawsuit.