(PRESS RELEASE/ Washington State AG’s Office)
Lawsuit filed against Veterans Independent Enterprises of Washington…
Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a lawsuit against non-profit organization Veterans Independent Enterprises of Washington (VIEW) and its operations manager, Rosemary Hibbler. Ferguson asserts Hibbler spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of the organization’s money for personal gain, including ATM withdrawals at casinos and her own personal bills. Meanwhile, VIEW failed to pay for repairs to veteran housing, wages to its veteran employees, and, at one point, laid off its entire staff and asked them to “volunteer” their labor.
After the lawsuit was filed, the judge granted Ferguson’s request for appointment of an interim receiver — someone who will take over management of the organization, including its bank accounts, operations and properties, until permanent and effective leadership can step in. The receiver, Daniel Bugbee, is a veteran himself and has years of experience with Washington receiverships.
The lawsuit, filed in Pierce County Superior Court, asserts that the organization, Hibbler and its board members, Donald Hutt and Gary Peterson, violated the Charitable Trust Act, the Nonprofit Corporation Act and the Consumer Protection Act. The complaint asserts that Hibbler repeatedly and intentionally misappropriated funds from VIEW. Despite many warnings of this conduct, including multiple investigative reports on KING 5, VIEW’s two board members continued to employ Hibbler and approved her many illegal purchases on VIEW’s account.
“VIEW’s management and its board abandoned its mission to help veterans,” Ferguson said. “It’s shameful that VIEW management spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal bills and casinos, while leaving veteran housing to deteriorate and its employees unpaid.”
VIEW, a Tacoma-based nonprofit, formed in 1988 to provide housing and job opportunities to veterans in need, primarily those who are unemployed, recovering from addiction or have a criminal record. VIEW employed hundreds of veterans to provide various services to businesses — for example, restoring respirators for Boeing. Many of these veteran employees also lived in VIEW’s transitional housing.
VIEW’s once-successful program has fallen into disarray and has failed to provide even basic support to its residents and employees. Sometime between 2010 and 2014, VIEW began suffering from significant neglect and mismanagement. The board of directors, which is required under VIEW’s bylaws to have a minimum of six members, dwindled down to only two: Hutt and Peterson.
According to the lawsuit, the board stopped holding regular meetings. It operated without a formal budget for years. In addition, it paid its employees late or not at all. In some instances, their paychecks bounced. The organization paid some employees below minimum wage.
Hutt and Peterson hired Hibbler as VIEW’s operation manager in 2015. Her job duties included bookkeeping, human resources and compliance monitoring.
Hibbler has a history of financial crimes. From 2007 to 2011, Hibbler was convicted of ten counts of felony theft or forgery. In addition, multiple civil judgments were entered against her.
Before she was hired to VIEW, Hibbler was fired multiple times over allegations that she misappropriated her previous employers’ funds. One of her former employers, another nonprofit called Sober Solutions, sued her over financial mismanagement. In 2017, a judge entered a default judgment against Hibbler and ordered her to pay more than $200,000 to Sober Solutions. According to KING 5, Hibbler has not yet paid that amount.
Even though Hutt and Peterson knew Hibbler has a criminal history and knew about her former employer’s lawsuit, they hired Hibbler anyway without conducting a thorough background check or fully inquiring into the nature of the convictions.
Under Hibbler’s management, VIEW has neglected maintenance on the veterans’ transitional housing, which is now dilapidated. In 2017, VIEW was evicted from its office space in Fife after Hibbler refused to pay rent because she was “unhappy” with the lease the board signed.
The Attorney General’s Office investigation into VIEW uncovered hundreds of questionable or unlawful transactions on the VIEW bank card. These withdrawals amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, including ATM withdrawals at casinos and rent payments to Hibbler’s landlord.
The lawsuit asserts that Hibbler misappropriated the organization’s funds in multiple ways, for example:
- Paying her personal IRS debts
- Paying her criminal defense attorneys
- Withdrawing at least $26,000 from the VIEW debit card at ATMs located in casinos
- Paying $11,000 of rent and late fees for her own house
- Thousands of dollars of direct deposits from the VIEW bank account to her personal bank account
- Paying her cable TV bills
The Attorney General’s investigation also discovered that Hibbler used VIEW money to bail herself out of jail after an arrest.
The board routinely gave Hibbler blank checks to use to pay for VIEW’s expenses, which she endorsed and made out to cash. Over a period of several months, she used these checks to take out more than $166,000 in cash. There is no evidence this money was used to pay any of VIEW’s expenses.
In February 2018, VIEW laid off its entire staff because it purportedly could not pay its employees. Despite the layoff notice, VIEW asked its employees to “volunteer” their labor.
Hibbler filed for bankruptcy three times, and is currently in another personal bankruptcy proceeding. The Attorney General’s Office has intervened in this bankruptcy proceeding to ensure Hibbler is not released from any debts she may incur from this case.
Hutt and Peterson’s negligence
Hibbler is still employed at VIEW, even though Hutt and Peterson have received multiple warnings about her conduct. One of VIEW’s shop managers called the police after noticing that Hibbler forged checks with Peterson’s signature. In response, Hutt and Peterson decided to fire the shop manager.
The board also kept Hibbler in her position even after she was arrested while employed at VIEW and after several KING 5 reports exposing her conduct aired this summer.
Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts that Hibbler violated state law by misappropriating funds. Nonprofit and charitable organizations are required by the Charitable Trust Act to ensure its assets are used for charitable purposes. Much of VIEW’s assets have been diverted for Hibbler’s personal benefit.
The lawsuit also asserts that Hutt and Peterson did not fulfill their duties under the Charitable Trust Act by allowing Hibbler to continue to manage VIEW even after ample warnings of her misconduct.
VIEW and its management violated both the Charitable Solicitations Act and the Consumer Protection Act when they made false, misleading and deceptive statements in charitable solicitations for VIEW. Such misrepresentations include claims on its website that VIEW is a “100% Veteran focused Work Opportunity Center” and that it provides “supportive services” to veteran clients. In reality, VIEW has failed to deliver its promises to veterans over the last few years.
The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Hutt, Peterson, and Hibbler from managing funds for VIEW or operating any charitable organization. It asks the court to issue civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
Assistant Attorneys General Joshua Studor, Heidi Anderson and Lynda Atkins are leading the case for the Attorney General’s Office.
Class action lawsuit
On November 15, VIEW reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit requiring the organization to pay $150,000 in damages to the veterans VIEW employed. Current and former employees who were unpaid, underpaid or paid late will receive damages under the class action settlement.