A Mapleton man who ran a charity intended to benefit World War II veterans is scheduled to make an appearance Wednesday in 3rd District Court to face six felony counts of communications fraud and one felony charge for a "pattern" of unlawful activity.
Court documents state that Paul W. McSweeney, 50, misappropriated $90,000, in part to pay off a 2006 trip that sent a group of WWII vets to Washington, D.C., for free. The misappropriated money is in reference to funds paid by people who accompanied the vets, whose trip was funded by donations made to McSweeney's charitable group Our Unsung Heroes. A total of 210 people, about half of whom were "escorts," or family and friends who paid their own way, went on the 2006 trip.
At least 54 complaints have been recorded in relation to McSweeney's fundraising activities, which were supposed to result in a trip for vets to Washington last May. That trip never happened, and the second count of communications fraud details how one family, unaware of the cancellation, flew out to Washington a few days ahead of everyone, only to find there were no accommodations, transportation, tours or meals as promised by McSweeney.
An investigation of McSweeney's fundraising alleges he was using funds being raised for a May 2007 trip to pay off the 2006 trip. Two days before another group of vets was supposed to leave for the May trip, everyone involved was told there would be no trip, due to lack of funds.
"It came as a total shock to me, that there was no money there at the time, I thought the money was there," said Judy Lemons, who helped take over fundraising efforts under the name Operation Hero Flight. "I thought things had been paid for."
But there would be no plane, no hotel or buses and no trip in May. At the time, veterans like 89-year-old Hyrum Grant Keeler said they were disappointed but that they hung their hats on an offer that Operation Hero Flight would pick up the fundraising baton.
By September 2007, Lemons and others were able to raise over $200,000 and make the trip happen for 132 WWII veterans.
Lemons said on the phone Tuesday that she believes McSweeney was "passionate" about raising money for the veterans. "I had no reason to believe that his passion wasn't there to do the right thing," she said.
When the trip last May was canceled, McSweeney disappeared, leaving a suicide note to a committee member involved with Unsung Heroes.
"McSweeney reappeared after several days," court documents state. "He met with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection and confessed in a recorded conversation that he had misappropriated approximately $90,000 of the monies he received for the May 2007 trip."
Court papers state that McSweeney had used some of the funds to pay for personal expenses for him and his family. A phone call to McSweeney seeking comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Last November the Utah Division of Securities went after McSweeney and another man, Craig Ostlund, for allegations of securities fraud and a fine of $45,000 for a fund-raising scheme that involved purchasing an airplane with investor monies. The plan was apparently to use money paid for flight lessons, using the airplane, to raise funds for veterans wanting a trip to Washington.
Charges against McSweeney also allege that he used Unsung Heroes money to avoid a felony check fraud on his record for bouncing a $44,750 check he wrote in November 2006 to Central Bank in Utah County.Lemons said Tuesday that no decisions have been made yet on whether there will be ongoing efforts to raise money for a 2008 trip. The difficulty, she said, lies in having to raise exponentially more funds for WWII vets the farther they live from Washington.