Action 9 investigates veterans charity

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —

Some consumers claim telemarketers for a local charity that raises money for military families pretended to be veterans and police officers.

There are parents in uniform deployed half way around the world who can't afford long -distance calls to their kids, and the local charity wants donations to buy the families phone cards.

Mary Clark said it seemed perfect.

"It'll help the children who have fathers in Iraq," she said.

The Florida Veterans Relief Fund called the company where Clark worked, and her boss pledged $100. Clark said someone from the charity who looked official arrived to collect the cash.

"He was in uniform, like a police officer," she said.

Clark thought it was odd, so she called the charity.

"I need to know how much of this money is going to the children, and he said, 'I've never been asked that before,'" Clark said.

Action 9 found the charity in Daytona Beach has a controversial history in three states that included arrests.

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office charged two of the charity's telemarketers with fraud in 2010 for pretending to be servicemen or police officers.

One of the men arrested was Bryon Ashton.

"Are you still working for this charity?" Channel 9's Todd Ulrich asked.

"Yes sir," said Ashton.

Two years ago, the charity said it didn't condone what Ashton did. Now, Action 9 found him back on the job.

"What are you doing for this company now?" asked Ulrich.

"I'm working," Ashton replied.

"Collecting money?" Ulrich asked.

"No, raising funds for charity," said Ashton.

Ashton denies he's misled anyone now but admitted he did before.

"Are you still telling people you were a veteran?" asked Ulrich.

"No sir, I do everything properly," Ashton said.

The charity is operated by the same fundraisers who were sued by the Indiana attorney general after its employees were accused of pretending to be military officers.

When asked how much money raised actually helps military families, John Ross of the Florida Veterans Relief Fund, said, "I do know that 78 percent of the money collected is going out for distribution."

But documents the company filed in Indiana, where it's based, suggest less than 20 cents of every donated dollar was spent on phone cards.

A local manager said its uniforms have the charity logo, and no one pretends to be an officer and denied anyone is misled.