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Shriners Spin Away "Breakdown of Spiritual Order"?

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The Shriners seem to have launched a massive PR campaign, as well as settled a defamation lawsuit they filed against two whistleblowers, right before the ninth worldwide conference of Masonic Grand Lodges that is taking place from May 7 to 10 in Washington, DC. Over 800 Masonic leaders will be joining the Grand Masters from over 100 countries for three days of sessions, receptions and ceremonies for the first time in our nation's capitol.

Before getting into this analysis, let's look at how these groups are related.

First, a man applies for membership at a local Masonic lodge, also known as the Blue Lodge. Once accepted, he must pass tests and complete rituals to advance through three degrees to become a Master Mason. In North America, Masonic lodges are grouped by state and are governed by one Grand Lodge. There is no Grand Lodge of America; rather the Grand Master of each state's Masonic Grand Lodge has supreme authority over all Masons in that state. Some international grand lodges oversee a country or a region. There are about three million Masons in North America and about two million worldwide. In North America, a Master Mason can branch out and join other "appendant" groups such as the Scottish Rite, the Knights Templar or the Shriners. Once a Master Mason becomes a Shriner, he joins the Red-Fez wearing fraternity of 350,000 or so who meet in 191 North American temples. Though they are Master Masons, some seem to disconnect from and turn their back on Freemasonry to become "Shriners first," who then dedicate their lives to overseeing and supporting their $13 billion network of 22 hospitals that provides free medical care to burned or crippled children at tax payer expense.

Both the Shriner hospitals and fraternity are non profit groups that are overseen by their own board of directors, with some board members sitting on both boards at the same time for unlimited terms. This is more commonly called a "conflict of interest."

This joint board of directors calls the shots for both the Shriners hospitals and the fraternity. The Imperial Potentate is the leader of the fraternity, a Shriner who has risen up through the ranks, including the fraternities' governing body, the "Imperial Divan," to serve a one year term as he governs the 191 temples who, in turn, govern the 2,000 clubs under them. In February, 2008, the joint boards published their newsletter, "Between Sessions," that tells the world about the great job they are doing. The Shriners Hospitals for Children recently released "Biomedical Research Highlights, Volume 2:1, March 2008." In April, 2008, Imperial Potentate Bernard Lemieux issued a statement about the most recent joint board meeting, highlighting a consultant's plan to "more efficiently structure Shriners Headquarters" and how the board approved a new Strategic Action Plan (SAP). On May 1, 2008, court documents were recorded after the Shriners settled a lawsuit instead of pursuing two whistleblowers for "defamation." Why would the Shriners be working so hard on putting out the good word and getting rid of the defamation lawsuit before the world's Grand Masters meet in DC? Are they are trying to wave their hands like Obi-Wan Kenobi and tell the Grand Masters "These are not the headlines that you're looking for." Headlines? Who said anything about headlines? Before we go there, let's look at the Shriners' chain of command. The ambitious Shriner can work his way up until he may be invited to join a secret Shrine sub-group called the Royal Order of Jesters, another non profit group with both charitable and fraternal components. The Jesters claim that their fraternal exempt organization purpose is to "spread of the gospel of merriment and mirth." They also claim they deserve charitable status because they built a "museum" inside their new $1.2 million dollar head quarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Recent articles about the Royal Order of Jesters began on February 15, 2008, when I published "Jesters Exposed." It asked: "Have the Jesters hustled the feds by convincing them that raising millions for partying is a legitimate exempt purpose because the IRS has had no problem classifying them as both a nonprofit fraternity and charity?"

This article described how the Jesters' executive director, Alex Rogers, submitted an application for property exemption for the new headquarters and how it was initially denied by the Marion County Assessor because they were not convinced that the Jesters qualified as a charity, based on the museum claims, under Indiana law. The Jesters appealed to the state board of tax appeals and were granted the property tax exemption after convincing the state that they were an appendant body of Masonry.

My next article, "Jesters to Testify about Illegal Drugs, Illegal Child Prostitution," ran on March 6, 2008. This article described how 19 Jesters were called as witnesses in a federal libel/slander lawsuit to testify about "their first hand knowledge of prostitution, minor prostitution, use of illegal drugs and/or entry into Indian reservations by Schair (plaintiff) and/or his customers" while on a ROJ sanctioned fishing trip to Brazil. This article describes the testimony of underage girls provided to Brazilian authorities who are currently investigating the possibility that the girls were involved in child sex tourism. One of the girls claimed she was 13 at the time and was left pregnant. Three days later, on March 9, the Buffalo News ran: "Ex-judge target in interstate sex case"

Reporter Dan Herbeck wrote:

A retired State Supreme Court justice resigned his post as a hearing officer as federal agents investigate his alleged role in taking a local massage parlor worker across state lines for purposes of prostitution. FBI and U.S. Border Patrol agents are investigating allegations that retired Judge Ronald H. Tills, his former law clerk and a retired police captain took the female massage parlor employee in a motor home to a gathering of members of a nationwide group called the Royal Order of Jesters.

"Ex-officer admits facilitating prostitution" ran on March 21, 2008. Herbeck wrote:

A retired Lockport police captain pleaded guilty Thursday to transporting women over state lines on two occasions to work as prostitutes at gatherings of a fraternal club. John Trowbridge, 60, also admitted to a federal judge that he paid the women for sexual favors at a Wheatfield massage parlor. His felony guilty plea could result in as much as 18 months in prison for him as well as serious legal trouble for a former state judge and a former state law clerk who are under investigation.

"Judge Tills traveled with woman he jailed on prostitution charge, Former state justice is a central figure in probe of activities of Buffalo Jesters," ran on April 6, 2008. Herbeck wrote:

A woman who faced drug and prostitution charges in State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills' courtroom later accompanied him on an out-of-state trip for a fraternal organization called the Jesters. Investigators are trying to determine whether the woman offered her services as a prostitute at the convention or whether she was just a guest of the judge, who has since retired... Tills, 73, is a central figure in a federal probe into the activities of the Buffalo chapter of the Jesters, a nationwide club that says its goal is to spread "mirth and merriment."

My latest article, "Judge Central Figure in FBI Probe, the S.O.B.I.B. and the Jesters' Half Million Dollar Weekend Parties," ran on April 12, 2008. It reported how Judge Tills has become the focus of an investigation by the FBI, the US Attorney's office and a human trafficking task force and that he, along with Alex Rogers and Ralph Semb, chairman of the board of trustees for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, are members of a Jester's sub-group, the SOBIB. The acronym supposedly stands for "Secret/Sacred Order of Brothers in Blood." Tax returns show that the Jesters fail to report this sub-group on their tax returns and that in 2004, the International Royal Order of Jesters spent $545,806 on one of their weekend celebrations of "merriment and mirth," otherwise known as the "Book of the Play." So, you might be asking, have the Shriners denounced any of the Jesters involved in these prostitution/child sex tourism/felony scandals? No.

Have the Shriners tried to disassociate themselves from the Jesters? No. Have the Shriners made examples of those Jesters bringing disgrace upon the brotherhood by either trying them for "conduct unbecoming a Shriner" or throwing them out? No. Not a word. It's as if their silence condones it. Or maybe they are hoping that if they keep quiet, this whole Jesters' thing will just blow over. After all, seven out of twelve who currently sit on the Shriners Hospitals for Children Board of Trustees are also members of the Royal Order of Jesters, including current potentate Bernard LeMieux, chairman Ralph Semb, Charles Claypool, Timothy E. Morris, Raoul L. Frevel, Nicholas Thomas and Gene Bracewell. I mean, how could these guys blow the whistle on their own "boys gone wild" group while trying to tell everyone how good they are and what a great job they are doing? Instead of drawing a line in the sand, the joint boards are spinning the benefits of a major reorganization, selling themselves in a new "Between Sessions" newsletter and touting their "Biomedical Research Highlights." And what about the Shriners' defamation lawsuit? The last thing they wanted is for Shriner whistleblower Vernon Hill and/or current IRS agent Paul Dolnier to show up at the Grand Masters conference and hand out copies of the defamation complaint filed against them in retaliation for asking questions like "Where does all the money go?" and "What is wrong with your tax returns?" as well as for implying that the Shriners were being investigated after Dolnier met with Pennsylvania officials for half a day as he explained irregularities he'd found through his professional analysis of their tax returns. The last thing the Shriners wanted was for a jury to hear all about and for reporters to explain how they retaliate against those who want to report crimes instead of prosecuting those who commit the crimes.

The last thing the Shriners wanted was for the world to know how they demanded all communications between Vernon Hill, Paul Dolnier and me in an effort to circumvent federal and state reporter shield laws that have recognized a journalists' privilege to protect:

...the identity of sources and unpublished information collected or prepared during newsgathering.

All we know is that the case has been dismissed since the clerk of the Hillsborough County circuit court posted the settlement notice online on May 1, 2008, six days before the Grand Masters conference. Back to the reorganization announcement. It seems really out of whack. Why would a non profit group hire a company that "provides innovative solutions in the areas of human capital strategy, program design and management, and in the areas of risk and capital management, reinsurance intermediary services and actuarial consulting" instead of turning to non profit consultants, the IRS or their parent group, the Masons, for guidance? According to the announcement, the consultants recommended a 7% spending cap that was accepted when the joint boards unanimously approved a strategic action plan. Why did the Shriners spend charitable donations on another expensive study when, according to the minutes of their February 27 - March 1, 2005 Shrine Treasurers Association seminar, the treasurers heard about a Price Waterhouse study that also recommended a similiar 7% spending cap to support hospitals that were operating at only 1/3 capacity? The treasurers also heard about an option combining both a 7% spending cap and the acceptance of third party pay. It was rejected because "if we take third party pay under NIH funding for our research program we're going to have to jump through the hoops of all the federal regulations pertaining to affirmative action. And we're going to have to comply with state laws that you wouldn't believe." What type of a "culture" would be adversely affected by following federal regulations pertaining to affirmative action and by complying with state laws? And why would the joint board spend only one day reviewing something as important as reorganization, though the consultants worked for over a year on it? What was it that needed reorganization? In other words, what was so broken that it needed fixing? The announcement failed to mention any inclusionary activities such as focus groups or surveys of either the families served by the hospitals or the Shriner membership. Did the Imperial Divan consult the members for their input on the reorganization or did they just decide to keep the consultants secret and decide what was best for everyone without asking them? The joint board published their most recent newsletter "Between Sessions" in February, 2008, that tried to describe all their good deeds but instead painted a confusing picture of how they are spending millions on facilities, new construction and IT projects that look good on paper but may be a huge waste if the fraternity becomes extinct due to plummeting membership. Articles also described how:

" Consultants were hired to figure out how to recruit and retain 16 physicians needed at 12 Shriners hospitals;

" The Research Advisory Board needed to be reorganized;

" The medical research department needed to be streamlined;

" The grant management review process needed to become more efficient;

" Each scientist's performance would be evaluated to see if they were spending their funding productively; and

" The PR department was being reorganized.

And what about the 46 page Biomedcial Research Highlight publication?

The information presented in this document should be part of Part III of the exempt organization tax return, the 990. The tax return states:

All organizations must describe their exempt purpose achievements in a clear and concise manner. State the number of clients served, publications issued, etc. Discuss achievements that are not measurable.

The Shriners use the same boiler plate answer year after year, while plugging in different numbers. They usually sum up their activities as:

a. Treatment of pediatric burn victims admissions: 2,779, outpatient clinic visits: 213,277 at 2 burns hospitals.

b. Treatment of orthopedic patients admissions: 19,462 outpatient clinic visits: 213,257 at 16 orthopedic hospitals (including one dual use hospital).

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Investigative reporter, author and researcher into that which would rather remain hidden. U.S. Navy Electronics Tech vet, original shareholder of Ahtna, Inc, an Alaska Native corporation, Board of directors, Western Washington Pro Chapter of the (more...)
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