Dog Gone!

Emily Nunez, State Representative Candidate 

Winston Churchill said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Looks like Jacksonville didn’t get Winston’s memo.

 Large salaries and lavish spending, along with fraud and abuse, has been a recurring theme in Jacksonville, especially with leaders of non-profit organizations and elected officials. 

 In 2013, then Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll resigned when Allied Veterans, a charity for veterans which she widely championed and was the public face, was helping themselves to money meant for veterans. Carroll was not ultimately charged, although most of the $300 million raised was spent by the charity’s leaders for beachfront condos, Maseratis, Ferraris, boats and a host of other exuberance. In 2017, U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown was convicted of 18 corruption charges in connection with her fake charity, “One Door Education.” Brown used donations to pay for elaborate parties, expensive trips, cars and maybe a few of her wigs. Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reginald Brown were convicted in 2019 for multiple counts of fraud involving grants for small businesses.

 Oblivious to headlines and history, on Sept. 28, 2021, the Jacksonville City Council voted unanimously to award money to charities, coincidentally those that employ city council members at large salaries. The council also waived the requirements that called for all charities to be allowed to apply and compete for city dollars.

 The local media and ultimately some citizens were less than enthusiastic with the council’s endowments to their cronies’ charities and salaries. But to some council members it was no big whoop, as attaining council seats appears to be a familiar segue into lucrative salaries at local charities. Sometimes the opposite is true, as participation with charities seems to be a big vote getter. 

 Councilman Rory Diamond is the CEO for K9s for Warriors. Although he voted “yea” along with his council contemporaries, he quickly pointed out on social media that some members of the council were employed by charities that received city funds, but “…the non-profit I run has never taken a penny of city money…” It appears that although Diamond was quick with bragging rights, his charitable history is not one of complete benevolence and his memory is definitely selective. 

 When Ponte Vedra resident Shari Duval’s son came home from Iraq with severe post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), doctors and medical facilities offered little help. After a great deal of research, Duval found studies that showed service dogs offered significant relief from PTSD. Shari paired her son with a Belgian Malinois, and he began to show immeasurable progress.

 Duval felt she had witnessed a miracle and wanted to share that same miracle with others suffering from PTSD. With only determination, love, empathy and no financial backing, Shari started the non-profit K9s for Warriors. Her charity trained dogs, many rescued, as service companions for veterans suffering from PTSD. The largest salary Shari Duval reluctantly received after years of tireless efforts was approximately $60,000, with much of that going back to her charity. 

 In 2015, Duval met 36-year old Rory Diamond. He said he was a Nevada native and received his B.A. from the University of Michigan. After college, Diamond said he was an “…alumni of the White House,” and he was deputy associate director for President George W. Bush during 9/11. He asserted he helped in “founding the U.S. Office of Homeland Security” and “…watched two wars unfold.” Diamond told Duval he was the briefing director for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He said he received a law degree from San Diego School of Law in 2007 and worked for two international law firms. Diamond asserted he left one of the law firms to become a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice from April 2011 to Sept. 2012. He said he “focused upon impactful prosecution aimed at rescuing high crime communities from the grips of drug dealers, gang leaders, and violent criminals.” He also maintained he specialized in public corruption, financial fraud and organized crime.

 Shari Duval was impressed and hired Diamond as the organization’s executive director with a starting salary of $155,674. What Shari didn’t know was Diamond dressed up his employment history more than a little bit. 

 It appears Diamond, 22 and fresh from college, volunteered at the White House several days before 9/11. His title was “unpaid intern.” According to research, unpaid interns played no pivotal role in creating the Office of Homeland Security, except supplying coffee. Since he was allegedly at the White House for only over a year, he likely watched the two wars unfold…from another state.

 In December 2011, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed approximately 11 members of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization of Republicans that focuses its efforts on recruiting LGBT Republicans to unpaid state boards to ensure the rights of the LGBT community. Diamond was appointed to the Student Aid Commission.

Diamond’s resume lists he graduated from law school in 2007. The California State Bar shows he was licensed in 2009 but was never a federal prosecutor in Virginia, as he claimed. According to a press release dated Aug. 24, 2011, Diamond worked as one of many “special assistants” to assistant state attorneys in Virginia. The “special” designation means Diamond was an unpaid temporary volunteer for one year. 

After Duval hired Diamond, he began earning his salary by creating spin-off organizations from K9s for Warriors.

In 2016, Diamond created “The Institute for Warriors” and later renamed “K9s For Warriors Research Institute. (KWRI)” The research institute allegedly focused on research and awareness of the use of service dogs as a treatment option for PTSD. IRS forms showed Shari Duval took no salary from KWRI; however, in 2016, Rory Diamond took an additional income of $34,775. By 2019, Diamond’s salary with KWRI was $63,000 and Chief of Staff Patricia Dodson’s salary was $191,120.

CharityNavigator.org, a website that rates charities’ effectiveness, gave KWRI a failing grade. The charity spent zero on program expenses, but instead used 100% of the donations for administrative expenses which includes executive salaries. KWRI is not listed on K9s for Warriors’ website. The agency also lists City Council Candidate Nick Howland’s six figure salary as the executive director on the organization’s 2020 IRS financial filings.

 While working at K9s for Warriors, Diamond was elected to a seat on the Neptune Beach City Council and then to a seat for District 13 on the Jacksonville City Council. By 2019, Diamond’s salary with K9s for Warriors was $209,680, plus his council salary. He was, and still remains, the highest paid member of a non-profit on the Jacksonville City Council.

 In October of 2019, Councilman Diamond formed yet another charity linked to K9s For Warriors. He drafted legislation to form Northeast Florida Fire Watch Council. Diamond marketed “The Firewatch” as a “coordinated” effort between Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau and Baker counties to end veteran suicide. Each participating county initially provided taxpayer dollars to the organization in a show of solidarity to reduce veteran suicides. Diamond then created The Fire Watch Project, Inc., a parallel non-profit to The Fire Watch, which also seeks donations. 

 Shari Duval died after her recurring battle with cancer in February 2021. While she saw no positive results for veterans from any of Diamond’s spin-offs, K9s for Warriors was an incredible success story. Since its inception, Duval’s charity “rescued” 1,268 dogs and 650 veterans. However, after Duval’s death, it appears that Councilman Diamond has been a poor guardian for her legacy, as well as those waiting for a service dog and those who have contributed to K9s For Warriors, K9s For Warriors Research, The Fire Watch and The Fire Watch Project.

According to K9s For Warriors’ website, Rory Diamond’s salary is now $283,509, plus a 401K. Research shows it can take from six months to two years to train a service dog, depending on the breed of the dog. According to a representative of K9s For Warriors, Veterans now wait approximately four to five years to obtain a service dog. Yet, Diamond takes a fat bonus yearly. The representative from K9s for Warriors said the long wait was due to the fact that “rescue dogs do not always make good service animals.” Some have questioned why Diamond does not ask for donations of suitable dogs or purchase dogs for training instead of spending large donations for management’s salaries.

While K9 for Warriors’ management are listed as working 40 hours weekly for their fat paychecks, none can be reached via phone at K9s for Warriors office. According to the financial information provided via the K9s for Warriors website, the upper management salaries for K9s for Warriors, including Diamond’s, are well over $1 million a year.

While Councilman Diamond may not have asked for taxpayer dollars to go to K9s for Warriors, he has personally advocated for at least $255,000 of taxpayer dollars budgeted to the city to be reallocated to The Fire Watch. On behalf of The Fire Watch, elected officials and others have also extended emotional pleas to neighboring county governments to donate to the non-profit in efforts to help stem veteran suicide. Initial contributions from local counties ranged from $5,000 to $70,000. Diamond’s organization has asked counties for a 300% raise in taxpayer dollars for the FY 2022 budget. But it appears at least two formerly participating counties may be looking for reassurances that The Fire Watch is actually assisting veterans.

John Martin, Nassau County Commissioner and county liaison to The Fire Watch, told the program’s executive director, Nick Howland, he was concerned about the county’s contributions to the charity. 

“I need data indicating The Fire Watch is making progress toward reducing Veteran suicide in Nassau County.” Martin emailed The Fire Watch officials. “…There is no doubt that this is a worthy cause. However, for me to advocate to approve your request for triple the amount of taxpayer funds as you received the previous two years, I need data to support it.” Martin received no answer, but he continued his quest.

Commissioner Martin sent more email inquiries to Howland “… I understand that K9s for Warriors subsidizes your [Fire Watch] salary. However, it will not go unnoticed by my fellow Commissioners that your Executive Director’s salary increased from $125,000 to $150,000 per year and additional staff are being brought onboard.” Martin chided. “This is all justifiable and cannot be used to oppose your request if the data I have asked for indicates that The Fire Watch is making a difference in Nassau County.” To date, Martin has received no data that indicates The Fire Watch is actually assisting suicidal veterans in any way. Nassau County will not be honoring the funding request.

A Clay County official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Folio they also had doubts about The Fire Watch. The official asked for proof that The Fire Watch was actually providing services to vulnerable veterans. Again, nothing was forthcoming.

When suicidal veterans or those who want to help veterans, attempt to contact The Fire Watch, all inquires are directed to other veteran charities. One local Jacksonville charity takes the calls to keep veterans off the street, provides for 90-day hotel stays, supplies veterans with food, mental health counseling, and whatever they need in an attempt to stabilize their situation. Low on resources, the Jacksonville charity requested that The Fire Watch provide mentors or someone to sit with the distressed veterans. The Fire Watch told the organization they didn’t have any mentors or assistance to provide. This answer left the organization with questions as to what The FireWatch was actually accomplishing for veterans.

 

When Folio attempted to discover exactly where the money that had been donated to The Fire Watch was actually spent, it appeared The Fire Watch had one expenditure, Nick Howland’s salary. Despite the fact that he was running an aggressive time-intensive political race to fill the remainder of the late Tommy Hazouri’s City Council seat, Howland’s salary remained the same. Howland did, however, respond to questions about his large salary. 

 

“I do not need to share the amount since The Fire Watch Council pays nothing for management of the program.” Folio discovered an Executive on Loan agreement showing that K9s for Warriors had been paying Howland’s six-figure salary. Howland wrote, “…At some point, K9s probably needs a resolution of thanks from the Council and perhaps each County Commission.” Perhaps Howland could perform that resolution of thanks to K9s for Warriors for his large salary for little performance.

 

Despite his paycheck and title, Howland seems to have no knowledge about the legal requirements for the charities he represents. When Folio asked about the names of board members for The Fire Watch Project, Inc., Howland said those names were not required by Florida’s Sunshine Law. He was wrong. After Folio’s queries, board members were finally listed on sunbiz.org, the state’s Division of Corporations site, but remain unlisted on the non-profit website. Although required, there are also no meeting minutes provided on the website. To date, there has been very little transparency with the funds being contributed to the The Fire Watch Counsel and The Fire Watch Project, Inc. Only snapshot expenses and budgets have been provided on request. Interestingly, no budget for office expenses, rent, utilities or internet is listed. A white paper written by Howland disclosed that K9s for Warriors owns all intellectual property related to The Fire Watch, including the trademark, designs and website.

 

After public disapproval of the Council’s bequests to their cohorts’ charities which pay for their charitable salaries, Councilman Diamond drafted a bill that would ensure a competitive bid process for grants to non-profits. The bill also included reporting requirements for the council members’ role in the non-profit. Council watchers said Diamond’s efforts were clearly for show, since he already voted to give money to members’ charities and skipped the competitive process. Watchers said his bill was meant to garner favor for his next political race and mask shadowy aspects of the charities he represents.

 

Most purloining by public officials takes place because they are placed in positions of accessibility. Organizations and charities that do little for the most vulnerable divert funds from those that respond to real needs. Insiders, outsiders and Council watchers say it’s time for City Council members to get out of the charity business or get off the Council because they can’t do both honestly. The Jacksonville City Council has repeatedly picked the non-profit winners and losers. Rory Diamond’s charitable boondoggles are a living example that Winston Churchill was right.

 

 

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