Marines and Mickey founder may be forced to pay U.S. government after attorney says he pocketed about 80 percent of donations

Marines and Mickey founder may be forced to pay U.S. government after attorney says he pocketed about 80 percent of donations

Dubious charity linked to 2015 Chattanooga terrorist attack

January 18th, 2019 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 6/30/16. John C. Simpson, father of John Shannon Simpson, speaks about his son while in the doorway of John C.'s Anderson, S.C., residence. former brother in law of Jeff Simpson, and Simpson's 18-year-old nephew Blake Stutler, speak about Simpson's youth. John Simpson the founder of Marines & Mickey is under federal investigation for stolen valor and is accused of misappropriating funds by the leaders of the Lance Corporal Skip Wells Foundation.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Marines and Mickey

+3
more photos

A federal prosecutor will try to force John Shannon Simpson to pay $390,000 to the U.S. government, money he made off a dubious charity and his ties to a Marine who died during the July 2015 terrorist attack here.

In a filing on Jan. 9, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina Sherri Lydon wrote that Simpson pocketed about 80 percent of the $480,000 he raised from May 2014 to June 2016. Lydon said Simpson received most of his money as a result of the terrorist attack that killed five servicemen in Chattanooga.

Cathy Wells, the mother of Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells, helped him raise about $135,000. This included donations in her son's honor, which Wells gave to Simpson. It also included Skip Wells' death benefit proceeds, as well as a $75,000 loan that Cathy Wells gave Simpson, who promised to open a barbershop in her son's name.

At Wells' direction, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga also gave Simpson $25,000. The money was raised by former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning.

If Simpson is convicted but does not have $390,000 to forfeit, Lydon wrote, she will "seek forfeiture of any other property of the said Defendant up to the value of the above-described forfeitable property."

A grand jury has not indicted Simpson, but he has been in federal custody since October. The criminal accusation against him stems from the fact that he supposedly misrepresented himself to donors, including Wells.

On the charity's website, which is no longer active, Simpson is described as a 20-year veteran who served as a recon Marine and a drill instructor. In fact, his military record shows he served three years before abandoning his post in 1996. He was a lance corporal at the time and specialized as a basic disbursing clerk.

After he was found guilty at a special court martial for violating the uniform code of military justice, Simpson was reduced to the rank of private and received a bad conduct discharge.

Simpson also told donors that 100 percent of money went to Marines and their families. The purpose of the charity, Marines and Mickey, was to send Marines and their families to Disney theme parks. Money was also supposed to pay for families to travel to boot camp graduations in Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego.

Simpson formed the charity in May 2014, and the Internal Revenue Service awarded it tax-exempt status in 2015. He met Wells days after her son's death. After the two worked together for several months, a friend of a friend tipped her off that Simpson lied about his military record. When Wells demanded her money back, Simpson wired about $47,000 from the charity's bank account to two other bank accounts, Lydon wrote in her filing.

She said some of the funds for the charity came from boot camp graduates, whom Simpson met at their ceremonies. At least five Marines told investigators that they agreed to donate $25 a month to Marines and Mickey. But they said he withdrew more than that from their bank accounts, with the total amount of fraud among them equaling about $5,000.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.