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Tags for troops charity faces scrutiny
Veterans' groups and legislators raise red flags about a group that has yet to donate.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published June 14, 2007
The idea, of course, came on the road.
Martin C. Boire and his wife were driving back to Florida a few years ago when they started talking about license plates.
Does Florida, they wondered, have a plate supporting U.S. troops?
That conversation came full circle Tuesday when Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law a Support Our Troops tag that could be available by Oct. 1.
But the signing overshadowed the struggles of a charity Boire formed in 2005 to raise money for troops and their families.
A 2006 IRS tax filing shows that Support Our Troops Inc., which will disburse money raised by the sale of license plates in Florida and numerous other states, took in $40, 901 in direct public support last year but listed no payments to troops.
It also shows a group saddled with $600, 000 in liabilities, including over $500, 000 in loans. The group's expenses exceeded its 2006 revenue by almost $400, 000.
Some veterans' groups, though wishing Boire success, are nonetheless wary about his group's financial condition.
"You can be assured veterans' groups will be watching the situation very closely, " said Al Linden, executive director of the Florida chapter of Disabled American Veterans.
Boire (pronounced Boyer) said revenue is not yet being generated, and he faces enormous startup costs to get his charity on its feet. Soon, troops will benefit, he said.
"We won't see money until sales ramp up, " Boire said.
23 states sign on
The story of Boire's charity is about one man's dream to bring Support Our Troops plates to states across the nation. It's a story built on patriotic fervor and the universal desire to help troops. At its heart is Boire, 51, a lawyer with no history of military service who quit his practice to devote himself to his cause.
The sacrifice of troops weighs heavily on him, he said, and he feels a "moral obligation" to help them with their financial needs.
So far, his charity has gotten 23 states to put Support Our Troops license plates on their highways, with more expected soon, he said.
Much of the proceeds generated by plate sales go to Boire's charity. Money is to be dispensed to troops in financial need, though Boire is allowed some payment for his group's overhead.
Boire said laying the groundwork is difficult and expensive. He said his national startup costs are enormous - $160, 000 in Florida alone. The group hired a lobbyist to help shepherd its efforts in Florida.
With plate sales yet to materialize in a big way, Support Our Troops Inc. is a charity that so far has sent "very little" to troops, Boire acknowledged.
That will change in the months to come, Boire said. The group projects eventual revenues of $10-million to $20-million, and most of that will make it to troops' pockets, Boire said. Early donors know that their money is being used on essential startup costs, he said.
"We didn't want to create something that would be a flash in the pan, " Boire said. "We wanted to create something that would last dependably and legitimately for 100 years. ... If you give it all away today, you won't have a tomorrow."
The group is also selling merchandise, including Support Our Troops T-shirts and bumper stickers.
The Florida tag, which will cost motorists $25 on top of registration fees, is expected to generate at least $400, 000 annually.
While the group says it has won wide support in legislatures around the country, a few critics are uncomfortable.
'Not good for soldiers'
Florida Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach, said Boire refused to provide her with financial information when she asked earlier this year.
"It just doesn't sound right, " said Bucher. "In asking for background, he got so defensive, it just sparked my interest. This is not good for soldiers. There's no accountability."
Boire said he offered Bucher all the information she wanted.
"If we're supervised by 25 to 30 attorney generals across America, then we're a pretty safe place for people to do business, " Boire said.
In Kansas this year, Boire's efforts to get the plate approved failed because he did not reach out to veterans' groups, said state Rep. Candy Ruff.
In an interview, Ruff said it "really stuck in my craw" that Boire didn't reach out.
"It seems to me if you're truly interested in the needs of Kansas veterans, you'd want to network with existing veterans' groups, " she said.
Joseph Anania, 80, who is on the board of directors of Support Our Troops, is so certain of Boire's good intentions that he has loaned the group $120, 000.
The money is part of $546, 000 in loans listed on a 2006 tax form submitted by Boire to the IRS and the state, including a $100, 000 loan by Boire's wife.
Anania said the money will soon start flowing and troops will ultimately benefit greatly.
"We're going to make this happen, " said Anania. "It might take a couple of years."
In Florida, Boire has worked for two years to get his plate approved, finally finding success after talks with veterans' groups who initially questioned whether the charity was needed.
One objection was that Support Our Troops initially sought the first $150, 000 from plate proceeds to recoup startup expenses.
That was lowered to $60, 000, and veterans' groups soon supported Boire.
After that first $60, 000 is collected, the group is allowed only 25 percent of all further revenue to offset its expenses.
The remainder of the revenue generated will be split, with Support Our Troops getting 65 percent, all of which is required to go to troops. The other 35 percent will go to veterans' nursing homes operated by the state.
Lawmakers who proposed the plate in Florida praised Boire and his goals, though they appeared to know little about his finances.
Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, sponsored legislation in the Senate and said he doesn't know if any lawmaker checked out the group's financial documents before voting on the measure.
Baker said if things go awry, "We can always legislate the tag out of existence."