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Government probes group that promised to build WWII memorial

February 22, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A foundation that sought $40 donations to put World War II veterans’ names on a wall _ still unbuilt _ in France is under investigation by Justice Department fraud attorneys.

Department spokesman John Russell said Friday the criminal division’s fraud section ``has been investigating this for some time based on a series of complaints from people that lost money.″

An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said bureau agents are conducting the investigation. ``All the money is gone,″ this official said.

Last Monday, NBC reported on alleged improprieties at the foundation.

In a segment to be broadcast Sunday night, CBS’ ``60 Minutes″ says the FBI is trying to determine what happened to an estimated $2 million that former GIs or their relatives contributed to the Battle of Normandy Foundation.

Interviewed on the program, Anthony Stout, a Washington businessman who was foundation president, said he was unaware the FBI was investigating and had interviewed several people.

``I can’t understand what in the world there would be to investigate,″ he told correspondent Mike Wallace. He said the foundation was ``carefully and properly run.″

Stan Kaplan, publisher of a weekly newspaper in Charlotte, N.C., who audited the foundation’s books for more than a year, said it was ``sort of a Ponzi scheme. Every project was to be used to pay for the last project.″

Stout established the foundation in preparation for celebrations in 1995 marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Among its projects was a wall honoring Americans who served in Europe.

The wall was to be erected in a town near the Normandy beaches in France where the Allied invasion to topple Hitler was launched on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

To help promote the wall, Pierre Salinger, the former White House press secretary, ABC newsman and public relations executive, served as volunteer chairman and did television commercials.

The program said Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and former presidential candidate, then senator, Bob Dole, R-Kan., withdrew as directors of the foundation in July of 1993, saying they were concerned about suggestions of impropriety.

The General Accounting Office, Congress’ investigative arm, issued a report critical of the foundation’s finances, CBS said.

According to a former financial officer who quit the foundation over management practices, the foundation raised $2 million for the wall. But Tom Gantt, who quit at the end of April 1994, said $1 million was spent on project-related activities and another $1 million diverted to other foundation projects having money problems. He said the foundation owed more than $1 million in other debts.

The program interviewed other associates of Stout who said he piled on commitments the foundation could not afford and seemed more interested in socializing with celebrities.