Wounded Warrior Board Ousts Top Two Executives

Steven Nardizzi, CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project.
Bobby Bank | WireImage | Getty Images
Steven Nardizzi, CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project.

The Wounded Warrior Project fired its top two executives Thursday after accusations of lavish spending and financial irregularities by the charity.

The group's chief executive, Steven Nardizzi, and its chief operating officer, Al Giordano, were fired by the nonprofit organization's board of directors, according to a news release from the board distributed by Abernathy MacGregor, a crisis-management public-relations firm hired by the charity.

Mr. Nardizzi and Mr. Giordano were instrumental in building the organization into a fund-raising juggernaut that took in more than $372 million in 2015.

But the leadership came under fire after former employees said the charity spent recklessly and became overly focused on fund-raising at the expense of veterans' programs. Mr. Nardizzi was given $473,000 in compensation in 2014. A staff meeting at a five-star hotel in Colorado, in which he rappelled into a crowd, cost nearly $1 million.

In reports by CBS News and The New York Times in January, current and former employees described the organization's spending millions on employee retreats and first-class airfare while building programs for veterans that were useful for marketing but did little to serve veterans' needs. The group spent 40 percent of donations on overhead, according to charity watchdog groups.

As scrutiny of the group's spending grew in recent years, the Wounded Warrior Project spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on public relations and lobbying campaigns to deflect criticism of its spending and to fight legislative efforts to restrict how much nonprofits spend on overhead.

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Leaders also grew intolerant of criticism, employees said. Several former employees said they had been fired for raising concerns. Many of them were themselves wounded veterans.

In February, the group's board hired the New York law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett to perform an independent review.

The review confirmed many of the findings by The Times and CBS, according to a news release from the public relations firm, and the board has instituted changes to limit first-class travel, track changes and increase accountability.

"To best effectuate these changes and help restore trust in the organization among all of the constituencies WWP serves, the board determined the organization would benefit from new leadership, and WWP CEO Steve Nardizzi and COO Al Giordano are no longer with the organization," the news release said.

The board chairman, Anthony Odierno, will temporarily take control of the charity, according to the release. Mr. Odierno, a retired Army captain who was wounded in Iraq, is the son of Gen. Raymond Odierno, a former chief of staff of the Army.

"It is now time to put the organization's focus directly back on the men and women who have so bravely fought for our country and who need our support," Mr. Odierno said in a statement.

Board members and Wounded Warrior Project officials did not return calls seeking comment. But Erick Millette, a former employee who was quoted about his disillusionment with the organization in the January article, said a board member, Richard Jones, had contacted him Thursday and thanked him for speaking out about problems at the charity. He said Mr. Jones had told him "there were going to be some changes."

Mr. Millett said he had left the organization after growing disturbed about wasteful spending.

"I hope now it can get back on track," he said. "The challenge now is to regain trust — the trust of donors and of veterans."