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Shriners Perfect Storm?

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Transparency, disclosure and accountability are the stars by which Shriners must steer, else they self-destruct in their Perfect Storm. Now is time for new committee leaders like Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., the incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to stay on course and continue his focus on issues he's worked on with his powerful predecessor, Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Last September, the Finance Committee held hearings to consider the issues of non profit hospitals, of which Grassley said, "Non-profit hospitals receive billions in tax breaks at the federal, state and local level. The public has a right to expect significant, measurable benefits in return...I'm confident that many non-profit hospitals are well-intended and do outstanding work on behalf of their communities and the poor. But I'm concerned that the best practices of non-profit hospitals are not common practices at all. Things need to change." These issues may also interest U.S. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek who was recently chosen to serve as the only Florida member of the House Ways and Means Committee that oversees virtually all federal government activity. What these leaders and their constituents share is an interest in two groups who have managed to fly under the radar of congressional hearings and GAO studies. These groups are the Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Imperial Council of the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America. The first is a 501c3 charitable exempt organization. The second is a 501c10 fraternal exempt organization that rules over approximately 190 Shriner temples and, according to their Articles of Incorporation, "Maintains, controls, conducts and superintends any and all charities, benevolences and hospitals now established...and to create and maintain a fund for the purchase, erection, operation and maintenance of Shriners Hospitals for Children." Both share headquarters in Tampa, Florida where the Hillsborough County property tax assessment is over $450,000. Since both groups are classified as tax-exempt, they don't pay it. Yes, to their credit, the 22 hospitals do provide free medical care for burned and crippled children. Yes, the temples are made up of the red fez wearing guys who have secret handshakes and drive those goofy cars in the parades. This is not about those who have spent decades supporting the hospitals and children. This is about the leadership of said groups who: " Use charitable contributions to punish and sue their own for defamation after they ask questions like "Where does all the money go?" and "Why are there no cash deposits after bingo?" " Turn a blind eye while crime, fraud and theft of over $1 million is discussed during their semi-annual Treasurers Meetings, though they also may be Sheriffs, FBI agents, US Marshalls, Supreme Court Justices, District Attorneys, CPAs and others who are sworn to uphold the laws of the land. " Prosecute only 19% of crime and fraud found in the Shriners temples because they "don't want their names in the papers and the bad PR." " Tells their membership to disobey the Civil Rights HIPAA laws that protect Medical Privacy. " Allow, in 2004 - 2005, the same 14 men as well as six out of seven hospital officers to serve on both the charitable and fraternal boards of directors. " Belong to groups that discriminate against blacks and women. " Belong to groups like the Masons, Knights Templar, the Scottish Rite and Jesters, yet fail to report these affiliations on their tax returns. " Record Resolutions in a nearby county, yet fail to report these changes to their governing documents on their tax returns. " Use charitable donations for multiple executive and employee mortgages, yet fail to report them on their tax returns. " Hire, in 2005, a former government executive to lobby against the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, yet fail to report this on their tax returns. (The Act was passed into law after the executives of companies Enron and Worldcom became convicted white collar criminals. The act also provides for things like Whistleblower protection and forbids the destruction of documents.) This would not be so bad except that in 1987, the Orlando Sentinel investigated allegations of a Shriner Circus ticket re-sale scam, sweetheart contracts and the possible theft of between $8,000 to $30,000. The matter had been reported three years earlier to government attorneys, convention center managers and police officers who did nothing. They were also Shriners. If these groups claim to be tax exempt, they need to start acting like it. The Shriners should immediately begin complying with the highest standards of non profit disclosure and transparency before a Congressional committee or three letter investigative agency knocks on their doors again. Or worse. Now is time for the Shriners to change course, else they crash onto the rocky points of their own Perfect Storm.
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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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