More than 900 family members of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are trying to forget their troubles during an all-expenses-paid jaunt to Orange County this weekend, even as the event’s organizer is forced to confront his own troubled past.
The trip, which began Friday, takes the children of fallen soldiers to Disneyland, a hockey game and an elaborate party. As Snowball Express got under way, however, organizer Michael Kerr was forced to address questions about his checkered past and the status of his charitable organization, which has received $1 million in in-kind contributions and raised nearly $100,000.
The debate erupted earlier this month when an OC Weekly article revealed that while Kerr was reaching out to the children of killed military personnel, there was a warrant for his arrest in Arizona for failure to pay nearly $50,000 in child support. He had also been successfully sued by a former employer over $78,000 in overdue child support, court records show.
On Thursday, Kerr issued a statement acknowledging that he owes ?a considerable sum of money? for his three offspring, although he said the lawsuit filed by his former employer, Equis Corp., was not over child support.
?For a time, my life was a mess,? said the 47-year-old Laguna Niguel resident. ?I became addicted to drugs. Not only did I fail to pay my obligations to my children, but I literally had no place to live.?
Kerr said he began cooperating with Arizona authorities last summer to establish a restitution program and has so far paid $8,147.18.
Several media outlets also found inaccuracies on a resume posted on his former employer’s Web site. It lists him as a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and describes him as a licensed real estate salesman in California and Arizona.
UC Santa Barbara officials said he was enrolled for two quarters but didn’t earn a degree. State records show his real estate licenses expired in 1993 in California and 1998 in Arizona.
Kerr blamed his former employer for inaccuracies in the resume, but a spokeswoman said Kerr had provided the information himself.
National Public Radio, which reported on Kerr’s organization on Friday, said Kerr promised tax deductions in e-mails, but has collected some money in the names of entities that don’t have tax-exempt status and are not registered charities.
Kerr said in a Thursday statement that The M. Scott Kerr Foundation’s application for nonprofit status was being processed.
?I am a man that went through some very tough times,? Kerr told NPR. ?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.?
Some of this year’s Snowball planners said they are unconcerned with Kerr’s past.
?If we did a background check on the hundreds of people volunteering at this event, we would all have blemishes,? said Al Krueger, director of government affairs at Oakley sunglasses, which hosts a party for the families today. ?I don’t think (Kerr’s history) detracts from the event at all.?
Not everyone shares that outlook.
?Really great guys don’t have arrest warrants for owing $50,000 in child support,? said Karen Zacharias, a Snowball Express volunteer and former journalist who wrote a book on how families deal with the death of a military parent.
?My dilemma this weekend is that I don’t want to lend any credibility to Michael Kerr. He outright lied to me when I asked him about the OC Weekly article.?