After 6 hours of deliberating, a jury found “Boxes for Heroes” founder Frank Roach guilty of nine counts of scheming to defraud and theft via his nonprofit organization Alaska Veterans Outreach Boxes for Heroes.
The verdict comes nearly three years after Roach was initially indicted for pocketing donations meant for deployed soldiers and soliciting donations to do so. He has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, saying that while he kept shoddy financial records his actions were not criminal and his organization did what it set out to do — send boxes full of food, toiletries and gifts to soldiers overseas.
“I did a lot of stupid stuff as far as bad bookkeeping and things like that,” Roach said. “But I didn’t, my whole intent was to take care packages to the troops. That was my whole intent.”
During the trial, the state prosecutor Charles Agerter focused his case on what he said was proof that Roach had knowingly defrauded his donors.
Among that evidence was a series of bank statements spanning from April 2010 to September 2011 from the Boxes for Heroes account. According to those statements, Roach spent about $5,000 on synthetic marijuana, or Spice, and about $800 on postage for boxes.
Roach said he had purposefully used the business bank account for every purchase.
“I put everything on the debit card. Every single transaction, outside of when I wrote company checks,” he said. “It sounds crazy but my way of thinking was, you know I’ve got everything in black and white there. I can do my books that way through my bank statements.”
Agerter brought in witnesses to testify that they had specifically donated money to Roach’s organization thinking that it would go toward postage.
The organization did not regularly mail out the boxes that it packed.
While “Boxes for Heroes” volunteers held packing parties to prepare hundreds of boxes for shipment, and those boxes were United States Postal Service flat rate boxes, they were not shipped via USPS. Rather, Roach’s organization transported them to the National Guard, which then sent them out to soldiers.
But witnesses called that process into question as well.
Brian “BJ” Altman, a former driver and vice-president for “Boxes for Heroes,” testified that he and Roach had delivered one shipment of 850 boxes to an obviously unprepared corporal and private at a base in Palmer.
“Frank had rented a U-Haul and we went up there and dropped them off and they had us put them in the galley because they didn’t want to put them anywhere else. They didn’t know what they were,” Altman said.
Roach said the organization used USPS boxes because they were free, but regularly gave the boxes it had packed to a National Guard non-profit affiliate which would then mail them.
Roach’s defense attorney, Andrew Miller, sought to prove that while Roach’s financial transgressions were bad business, they did not amount to intentional fraud.
“The fact of the matter is that Frank was in way over his head,” Miller said during his closing address to the jury. “He’s an experienced bookkeeper but he’s not a manager. He’s not a non-profit manager. Yet here he was managing a pretty successful non-profit.”
Roach did not testify himself. He said after his conviction he regretted not speaking up for himself. The defense presented one witness, Richard Williams, who identified himself as an Alaska Army National Guardsman who had worked with Roach in the past.
Williams appeared telephonically and was, at times, hard to hear. But, he told jurors that he had worked with Roach to get the boxes and then solicited donations from other organizations to get postage for the boxes. Sometimes, he said during his testimony, those boxes would be put onto cargo planes that were shipping supplies and equipment overseas to the troops.
Williams said Roach had delivered a few thousand boxes to him.
Miller sought to use Williams’ testimony as proof that Roach had been doing what he told people he would do — which was to get supplies to troops.
“This is an IRS issue, a tax issue, a bookkeeping issue. He didn’t commit a theft. He didn’t commit a scheme to defraud. He did things that were wrong in the management of business … but he didn’t steal from the people who were donating to him,” Miller said.
Ultimately, however, the jury found Roach guilty of two class B felonies and seven class C felonies. He faces up to 55 years in prison and $550,000 in fines for the felony counts. However, the jury also found that each felony conviction had the aggravating factor that he had knowingly stolen from multiple people.
Those aggravating factors, in addition to his prior felony conviction, mean that Kenai Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman could ultimately decide to sentence Roach to a longer prison term than the range typically given for his felony conviction.
Roach, who has been accompanied by his dog Maggie throughout the trial, buried his face in his hands after the jury foreman read the guilty verdict on his first scheme to defraud charge. He asked Bauman if he could use his cell phone in court and tried unsuccessfully to find someone to take care of Maggie.
Bauman told Roach on the first day of trial that if he were to be found guilty of the B felony charge of scheme to defraud and first-degree theft, he would be taken directly to jail and not allowed to leave the courthouse. Roach’s sentencing has been scheduled for July 9 at 2:30 p.m. at the Kenai courthouse.
Maggie whimpered and tried to follow as Roach was led from the courtroom.
“When they take me away in handcuffs, she knows what they’re doing,” Roach said.
Reached by phone at the Wildwood Correctional Complex in Kenai, Roach said he was surprised by the verdict.
“I thought it was going my way,” he said. “I really had confidence in the way the trial was going because of the testimony. I mean, they can’t say my intent wasn’t good. I’ve been doing this program since 2006. The National Guard told them we had sent thousands of boxes to the troops. Thousands.”
Both he and his lawyer said they’d likely appeal.
“I’ll put in for a change of venue because everybody knows who me and Maggie are. It’s biased,” Roach said.
Editor’s note: Upon conviction, Frank Roach was unable to find anyone to take care of his dog, Maggie, given that he faces several years of jail time. She is currently in the care of the reporter.
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Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @litmuslens.