July 16 victim's foundation cuts ties with 'Marines and Mickey'

Caroline Dove holds a photo of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, her boyfriend, in her hands July 17, 2015, at her home in Savannah, Ga. Wells was among four Marines killed July 16, 2015, in an attack at a military training facility in Chattanooga, Tenn. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire Thursday, July 16, 2015, on two U.S. military sites in Chattanooga in an attack that left four Marines dead and raised the specter of terrorism on U.S. soil. He was killed by police.

The members of a foundation for one of the U.S. Marines who died July 16 have severed ties with a nonprofit organization with which they had previously partnered.

In a Facebook post Friday, the Lance Corporal Skip Wells Foundation accused John Simpson of misappropriating $135,000. Simpson is the founder of Marines and Mickey, an organization that is supposed to send the families of Marines to Disney World. The foundation also purports to fly family members to boot camp graduations in South Carolina and California.

In the Facebook post, the members of the Wells foundation said Simpson claimed to be a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance, an elite unit that gathers information on enemies. Jason Weeks, co-chairman of the foundation, said a contact in the Marines told him two weeks ago that Simpson was not, in fact, a member of the unit.

Simpson did not return calls seeking comment. But on his website, he accused the members of Wells' organization of trying to sully his reputation out of jealousy. He said they wanted to take over Marines and Mickey, and when he refused, they lied about his behavior.

"This is nothing short of Blackmail and extortion," Simpson wrote. "Also, myself, My Foundation and its volunteers have been receiving threats via Facebook, emails, and phone calls."

Weeks said Simpson became close with Cathy Wells, the mother of Squire "Skip" Wells, in the days after Wells' death. Cathy Wells started a foundation in her son's name, raising money for the Junior ROTC and band programs at her son's high school. She also partnered with Simpson's foundation, friends say, because she and Skip Wells visited Disney World every year.

The two foundations held joint fundraisers last year. Weeks said Simpson raised about $35,000 through those events and also received a $75,000 personal check based on a promise to build a barber shop in Skip Wells' name near a boot camp.

Maeghan Jones, president of the Chattanooga Foundation, said Simpson also received $25,000 from the Chattanooga Heroes Fund that Peyton Manning launched after the July 16 attack. The fund was distributing $50,000 to each family, and Wells asked for half of the money to go to Simpson's foundation.

On Friday, Weeks said, members of the board of Wells' foundation confronted Simpson at a restaurant in Woodstock, Ga. He said they asked him for information about the families he has sent to Disney World. They also asked to see his organization's financial records.

Weeks said a member of the foundation told someone at the FBI about Simpson, though FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett wrote in a statement, "It would be premature to say that we were investigating."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.