A lawyer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, Inc., said the organization wants the Tonganoxie-based Purple Heart Veterans Foundation to “stop deceiving the public,” with the use of the name “Purple Heart.”
Rick Kovelant, a Maryland-based lawyer who represents the service foundation, which functions as the fund-raising arm of the Virginia-based Military Order of the Purple Heart, filed suit against the local nonprofit in U.S. District Court on Aug. 26, alleging a variety of trademark infringements.
At the lawsuit’s core, Kovelant said, the local charity — operated by Tonganoxie-man Andrew Gruber — intentionally confuses donors, who might believe the local organization is affiliated with the national non-profit, established in 1932.
The local nonprofit — founded in 2009 — has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after a Journal-World investigation found that only 11 cents of every dollar collected actually goes to veterans. In addition, Gruber spent six months in a Kansas prison for felony theft.
Gruber’s charity has been spotted in front of at least two local stores, and charity record searches show that the group is, or has, raised funds in Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma and New York. Gruber has contracted the fund-raising aspect of the nonprofit out to two for-profit companies: Independent Promotions, an Indianapolis-based company, run by his brother, Scott Gruber, as well as Eyeshine Marketing, a company based in Topeka. Eyeshine’s director, Scott Hayes, declined comment on his involvement with Gruber’s nonprofit.
Kovelant said there’s a chance the negative publicity from Gruber’s foundation could affect the Military Order of the Purple Heart’s reputation, and the lawsuit asks for an injunction against the local foundation prohibiting use of the term “Purple Heart.” The national group assists needy or hospitalized veterans who’ve received the Purple Heart honor during military service.
Kovelant said they heard about Gruber’s nonprofit when one of their affiliate groups in Kansas spotted the group fund-raising in front of a Kansas Walmart. Representatives for Walmart have said that Gruber’s nonprofit is prohibited from soliciting donations in front of the Lawrence stores. However, a spokeswoman for Walmart has not returned phone calls about whether Gruber’s group is prohibited at other stores across the country.
Last week, Gruber said that because of the potential costs associated with the lawsuit, he is planning on dissolving the nonprofit, though he did not say when that would be.
A hearing on the case is set for Sept. 9 at the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.