KENNEDALE -- A man representing himself as a military veteran on a mission to memorialize his fallen comrades is at the center of a wide-ranging Texas attorney general's investigation after questions arose about the charity he ran.
From Texas to Chicago, Evan Walter Coleman, 57, of Mansfield, said he was raising $15 million for the United States Fallen Heroes Foundation. It was a tall order for a man whose debts have included civil judgments and liens for failure to pay homeowner association dues.
Records also show that an Evan Walter Coleman of the same age was arrested in 1989 in Florida on felony fraud charges. Others show that Coleman pleaded guilty in 1994 to credit card fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to pay $55,009 in restitution.
Coleman, who has also run companies under the name Walter R. Coleman Jr., could not be reached for comment.
IRS records show that any donations that went to United States Fallen Heroes aren't tax deductible: It isn't recognized as a nonprofit organization by the federal government. However, Texas secretary of state records show that it was issued a certificate of formation as a nonprofit. Coleman is not listed among its officers, although he has identified himself as chairman of the organization.
In May, Coleman's organization pitched a plan to build a monument honoring the dead from each branch of the military with black granite plaques. They were to be engraved with the photograph, name, age, rank, hometown and the date the person died. Groundbreaking was scheduled for 2012.
It was a national campaign. On July 26, a Chicago suburb held a tribute under a Fallen Heroes banner.
The next day, WFAA reported that Coleman had been lying about being an Army veteran and questioned the foundation's nonprofit status. Coleman abruptly resigned.
It isn't clear whether Coleman has applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status. Such applications are confidential, and the organization was formally created four months ago. Applications for tax exemption face a long backlog -- the IRS is currently processing applications received in February.
The attorney general's inquiry, which began July 7, is sweeping. The office has demanded information about compensation, bank and other financial accounts, copies of account statements, annual operating budgets, board minutes and many other documents from June 2009 through last month.
Kennedale officials first met with Coleman last year about his plan to build a memorial to honor those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to City Manager Bob Hart. City officials suggested that it be built on undeveloped city property in the 1000 block of Bowman Springs Road at the Kennedale-Arlington border.
After some veterans organizations raised questions about the project earlier in the summer, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Burleson, whose district includes Kennedale, had his office research the foundation. Several leaders with the other groups told Turner that they had never heard of Coleman or Fallen Heroes.
"That was one of the things that was a big red flag to us," Turner said.
He said his biggest concern about the organization is that he couldn't find proof with the IRS that Fallen Heroes is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, yet the foundation claimed that status on its website. Also troubling was that the foundation's website asked people to send donations to Coleman's home address.
Coleman ran several companies out of his Mansfield home. A website shows that Coleman is CEO of Lanzarote Global Sports; other records connect his home to Texas Jai Alai.
He also headed a nonprofit organization called Texas/Louisiana Fallen Heroes Foundation.
A woman who was listed as secretary of that organization, speaking on condition of anonymity, said she was put on the board "so they could do banking." She said she was told that a man in the Middle East who worked for the U.S. government was the real secretary.
"I wasn't really on [the board]. They needed a secretary here in the United States," she said.
The woman said she believed that the organization banked with EECU. Tarrant County records show that EECU won a judgment of about $10,000 against Coleman in November 2008.
The woman said she was surprised to hear that Coleman faces questions because she had seen plaques presented to families of military personnel. She said Coleman had told her that he had served in the Army.
"I've never known the man to be anything but a good guy," said the woman, who said she's known him for about seven years. "He never lied to me."
Tarrant County records show that three liens have been placed on Coleman's home since 2006.
The attorney general's office said it launched an investigation into the foundation after receiving a complaint. It did not elaborate. Turner said the complaint didn't come from his office.
"We were compiling information and were considering taking it to the attorney general but wanted to learn more before we took that step," Turner said.
Larry Summers, a director of the foundation and a member of Kennedale's park board, is taking over as the foundation's chairman.
"It is my mission to put the foundation back on its true path, which is paying tribute and honor to the fallen heroes," Summers said in an e-mail. He declined to say whether any of the foundation's money is missing until the attorney general's investigation is complete.
Hart said Kennedale drew up a contract for the foundation to buy the 14 acres from the city over 18 months. Money from the land sale was to go toward other city road projects.
Whether the contract will move forward is now in question. Hart said he plans to ask the City Council for guidance at its Aug. 12 meeting.
"We own the land and we have a contract with them to sell them the land," Hart said. "The council can discuss whether they want to leave the contract in place."
Hart said he's concerned about the allegations against Coleman but is reserving judgment.
"I want to see the information that he provides the attorney general in asking their questions, and then I'll know whether I was misled or not," Hart said.
Darren Barbee, 817-390-7126
Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695