A Wounded Warrior Project wreath at the Eternal Light Monument in Madison Square Park on Veterans Day, 2015. WWP fired its top two executives, CEO and founder Steven Nardizzi and COO Al Giordano. Photo by Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock
NEW YORK, March 11 (UPI) -- The two top executives of the Wounded Warrior Project were fired Thursday by the board of directors after the charity came under scrutiny for lavish spending.
WWP Chief Executive Officer Steven Nardizzi, the charity's founder, and Chief Operating Officer Al Giordano were fired after a recent CBS News report found that just 60 percent of the organization's budget -- mostly donations from average Americans -- was spent on the 52,000 wounded veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By comparison, similar charities spend a tiny fraction of their budgets on administrative and fundraising costs.
WWP has raised billions over the last decade, including $300 million in 2014, but has often misspent money -- $26 million in 2014 -- on things like employee conferences and entertainment, CBS found.
"Let's get a Mexican mariachi band in there, let's get maracas made with the WWP logo put them on every staff member's desk. Lets get it catered, have a big old party," said Eric Millette, a retired army staff sergeant who quit after being WWP speaker for two years.
"I'll be damned if you're gonna take hard-working Americans' money and drink it and waste it," Millette said, "instead of helping those brave men and women who gave you the freedom to walk the face of this earth."
More than 40 former employees said spending began to get out of control when Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009, sparking outrage over his actions during annual employee conferences.
"He rappelled down the side of a building. He's come in on a Segway. He's come in on a horse," said one unidentified employee.
Watchdog group Charity Navigator reports WWP spent about 59.9 percent of its budget on programs and services for wounded veterans in 2014, compared to about 98 percent by another veterans charity, the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation. WWP reported spending the rest on administrative expenses (6 percent) and fundraising costs (34 percent).
Wounded Warrior Project issued a statement criticizing CBS for not contacting the charity's audit committee before broadcasting the story. The organization also said it was implementing cost-cutting measures like only allowing employees to fly economy class.
"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 statement said.
An earlier version of this story erroneously included a photo of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball team, which is not affiliated with the Wounded Warrior Project.