A program to help families of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is being questioned as a possible scam.
The Snowball Express brings hundreds of widows, widowers and their children to Southern California, where they receive an all-expenses-paid weekend vacation that includes a day at Disneyland.
The concern is that families and donors are being conned. That stems from a story in the OC Weekly in Orange County, Calif., which focused on Snowball Express founder Michael Scott Kerr. Writer Gustavo Arellano probed Kerr's past.
He says he found that Kerr was wanted in Arizona for failure to pay child support. Arellano says, "he owed about $50,000 in child support. It just struck me as incredibly hypocritical that a man who is organizing something that will help out children doesn't really care about his own biological children."
NPR has independently confirmed the existence of the arrest warrant in Arizona and the child support debt. NPR also reviewed Kerr's biography as posted on the Web site of a recent employer.
It lists a college degree he never received and a real estate license he doesn't possess, according to university and state records.
Snowball Express has raised $100,000 in cash, and $1 million in in-kind contributions. Kerr has promised tax deductions in e-mails obtained by NPR. But some of the donations are collected in the names of entities that do not have tax-exempt status and are not registered charities, according to state and federal records.
Kerr agreed to a brief interview this morning, and provided a written response to some of the questions NPR has raised. He says he's trying to pay down his child-support debt with regular monthly payments. He acknowledges the arrest warrant in Arizona.
He blames the inaccurate resume on a former employer, where a spokeswoman told NPR Kerr provided the information in it.
He insists the fund-raising is legitimate, and supervised by accountants. And he's dismayed that attention has turned to him, as widows, widowers and kids gather for the Snowball Express this weekend.
"I am a man that went through some very tough times," Kerr said. "And by the grace of God, I was pulled up and I was able to motivate some people to do this wonderful event for those children and the families of our fallen heroes."
"We're just here to make try and make this a wonderful event for these families."
Kerr says he's ready to open his group's books and respond to any and all questions — but not until after the weekend.