A 54-year-old man, Joseph Earl Steward, has been taken into custody for exploiting the Wounded Warrior Project for personal gain. According to a police report in Charlotte County, Steward would dress in a Wounded Warrior shirt and solicit donations from people at Port Charlotte Walmart stores and gas stations.
The Wounded Warrior Project is a non-profit organization that provides assistance to veterans, making Steward’s actions particularly egregious. To perpetrate his scheme, he went so far as to recruit homeless individuals to pose as Wounded Warrior employees, paying them to help with the fraudulent activities. The imposters would approach people outside stores and gas stations, collecting money under the guise of charity, but none of the funds reached the actual organization.
Steward’s actions constitute charity fraud, a serious offense, leading to charges of fraud and impersonation upon his arrest by the Charlotte County Sherriff’s Office. However, he was able to post bail and was released the same day.
Local veterans, including Purple Heart veteran Dan Bernard and fellow Vietnam veteran Eric Anderson, expressed deep concern and disapproval of Steward’s actions. They felt that his deception was disrespectful to the sacrifices made by veterans, and it undermined the trust and goodwill established in the community towards those who have served their country.
Steward’s fraudulent activities came to light when three individuals he had recruited to participate in the scam came forward in July 2021, reporting that he had falsely presented himself as a “lieutenant” working for the Wounded Warrior Project. A warrant was subsequently issued for his arrest on May 12 of the following year, but Steward and his accomplices continued their deception across multiple locations, including Walmart stores and Shell gas stations in Port Charlotte, North Port, Englewood, and Lee County.
This isn’t the first time Steward has faced charges related to charity fraud under the guise of the Wounded Warrior Project. Similar charges were brought against him by police in Ohio in the past.