Five leaders within American Legion Post 28 were arrested on Thursday, April 7, for allegedly stealing felonious amounts of money from the Millsboro veterans association.
An investigation by the Department of Safety & Homeland Security, Delaware Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE), began this January, and concluded with the discovery that $641,100 had allegedly been stolen.
According to DGE, Post 28 discovered suspected thefts by six officers, past and present, including one now deceased, that had taken place between July 2012 and January 2015 at their Oak Orchard/Riverdale location.
“The investigation revealed the suspects, who were Post 28 officers at the time, wrote and signed numerous checks out to cash, cashed the checks at local banks, and the funds were not returned to or used for American Legion Post 28 business,” DGE representatives stated.
Five suspects were arrested, arraigned and released, pending later court dates:
• Samuel Mauger, 65, of Millsboro for two felony counts of theft over $100,000 ($376,660 total)
• James Gallagher, 65, of Millsboro for two felony counts of theft over $1,500 ($13,000 total)
• Edward Mazewski, 69, of Millsboro for two felony counts of theft over $1,500 ($20,000 total)
• Michael Rooney, 66, of Georgetown for two felony counts of theft over $1,500 ($13,000 total)
• Charles Nimmericher, 53, of Millsboro on one misdemeanor count of theft under $1,500 ($400 total).
Additionally, DGE has since named David Yetman, 71, of Harbeson, who died in 2014, as being suspected of stealing $218,040.
Investigators obtained arrest warrants for the five suspects and executed a search warrant at Mauger’s Millsboro residence.
The five men were arraigned at J.P. Court 2, and all got “various denominations of unsecured bonds,” said Wendy Hudson, DGE public information officer.
On the Post 28 website, Mazewski is still listed as the first vice-commander in charge of membership. The finance officer position is blank. Gallagher was the former post commander, as well as the commander of the state American Legion group. The other suspects’ positions within the post leadership have not been confirmed.
Officers at Post 28 were not available for comment before the Coastal Point’s April 13 press deadline.
The Delaware Attorney General’s Office will prosecute the case. The individuals will likely be tried separately, officials said.
Post 28 had approximately 18 video-game machines, which are considered an important source of revenue for the post, according to a 2012 Coastal Point article.
“Part of the funds — not all of the funds — came from slot machines there. That’s why the Gaming Enforcement got involved,” Hudson said.
Suspect leaves the state Legion
The allegations are doubly challenging for the American Legion, because, until this week, Gallagher had commanded the Legion’s state headquarters, called the Legion’s Department of Delaware.
“Gallagher denies any culpability on both counts. Since a copy of the filing of charges has not been provided, there will be no further comment on the accusations,” stated the Department on April 11.
“In order to devote time and resources toward his defense, Gallagher has provided official notice to the Department that he will recuse himself from any and all duties and responsibilities as the chief executive officer (CEO) and commander … until the matter is resolved,” the Department added on April 12.
(The Department’s first vice-commander, Jeffrey Crouser, has since taken the position of CEO, as well as all commander duties and responsibilities.)
The Department has no concerns about finances at the state level, said Richard J. Santos, Department administrator and adjutant.
“Jim’s been with us quite a few years. He’s always been truthful, honest and trustworthy,” Santos said. “He’s been a Department officer in some [capacity] for about four years.”
Santos said he was not aware of any of the other suspects holding administrative positions outside of Post 28, much less at the state level.
Further down the road, if the men are found guilty, Post 28 will decide the future of their membership, representatives said. Based on its own bylaws, the Department could make its own recommendations regarding membership status.
At the state level, the American Legion’s Department of Delaware has limited oversight of posts, including membership and bylaws. That does not include day-to-day operations, including finances, which were the area impacted by the alleged crimes.
Volunteers still working
Founded in 1983, Post 28 has become one of the largest in the nation and world. Membership is estimated around 3,500 members, with 2,917 paid members as of the summer of 2015.
From humble beginnings in a small trailer, the Post now owns about 12 acres at Route 24 and Legion Road, also housing a Ladies Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion.
“To us, we’re battling a public-relations issue,” Santos said, “because any one person that might do something wrong kind of casts a shadow over the entire operation, whether it’s at the post level or department.”
It’s a reminder of what can happen, he said, but it’s a chance for the Legion to uphold their values that “one is considered innocent unless proven guilty.” Although they want to protect their interests, he said, the Department wants to act fairly and will support the DGE investigation.
“If the allegations are true — whether it’s one or six — that is not a typical scenario in the more than 13,000 posts around the world or 26 in Delaware. It’s an isolated incident,” Santos said. “The actions over at Post 28 are not typical.”
Meanwhile, Post 28’s membership is still hard at work to continue their ongoing projects, including the summertime breakfasts, fundraisers, yard sales and performances.
“You can’t stop. You gotta continue to live,” Santos said. “In this instance, the Legion has to continue to live, to support” their mission of veteran care and welfare.
“We’re asking [the public] to be supportive, because each post is its own little community,” Santos said. “We’re asking the residents to keep faith with the American Legion. This is an isolated incident, and we need to stay together, work together for their mutual benefit.”