ROANOKE, Va. — The former president of the struggling National D-Day Memorial Foundation was charged with lying about the amount of donations his organization collected in an effort to secure money to build the $25 million monument.
Richard Burrow, who stepped down last year for what he said were health reasons, is charged with four counts of fraud, U.S. Attorney John Brownlee said Friday.
He did not try to keep any donations for himself, but wanted to bolster his reputation as a major fund-raiser and leader, the prosecutor said.
“His prestige was connected to this memorial,” Brownlee said. “Remember, (President Bush) thanked him personally for this.”
Burrow’s lawyer, John Lichtenstein, denied the charges.
“Today, the government does not allege that Mr. Burrow or anyone else wrongfully received any monies or funds,” Lichtenstein said in a statement. “Rather, the government seeks a scapegoat for an investigation that should have yielded no indictment.”
The towering monument of polished granite and concrete was a longtime dream for many D-Day veterans who wanted to memorialize soldiers of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy that turned the tide of World War II.
It was built in rural Bedford, which lost 23 soldiers during the invasion, more men per capita than any other community in the country. President Bush attended the unveiling on June 6, 2001.
Instead of waiting to amass enough money to build the memorial, foundation officials had borrowed money and hoped the generosity and patriotism of its creditors would keep them from demanding paychecks before donations could be collected.
The indictment accuses Burrow of falsely telling a Bedford bank he had collected pledges in excess of $2 million in an effort to gain a $1.2 million loan in June 2001.
On another occasion, the indictment said, Burrow borrowed $3.5 million from a California bank, then used a copy of the foundation’s financial statement to secure $3.3 million in state matching funds. The California loan, Brownlee said, was only used as a lure for the state money.
“In order to receive matching funds, you have to have matching funds,” Brownlee said. “They have to be real.”
Brownlee said the investigation is currently focused only on Burrow, a local engineer hired in 1996 by the foundation primarily for his background as a fund-raiser.
If convicted on all four counts, Burrow faces a maximum of 120 years in prison.
Federal authorities began investigating the memorial in October, when William McIntosh, the foundation’s current president, acknowledged the nonprofit group was $7 million in debt. Most of the memorial’s board of directors later resigned en masse.
“Here we were trying to do something good for the veterans, and it backfired,” said Bob Slaughter, a D-Day veteran and one of the board’s original members.
The investigation has since become a major stumbling block for the memorial. Donations have lagged while the memorial remained under scrutiny. The debt, which began to accumulate in April 2001, has hovered around $6 million.
Frustrated with the slow and irregular payments, the memorial’s main architect and construction company filed lawsuits in state court this month to force repayment of about $2.8 million in unpaid building costs. If the foundation cannot pay, both creditors requested that parts of the memorial be sold to raise money.
McIntosh declined to comment Friday on foundation activities. But he said the memorial will not file for bankruptcy, and hopes it can win back the trust of potential donors.
“People need to understand that the foundation is led by a different group of people now,” he said.