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Pierce County veterans cheated out of paychecks by nonprofit finally get some justice

A 2018 class-action lawsuit filed by veterans against their employer has been settled, with the former employees getting long-awaited backpay.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Approximately 70 Pierce County veterans who were paid late, or at times not at all, for work at the nonprofit, Veterans Independent Enterprises of Washington (VIEW) of University Place, have settled a class-action lawsuit against their former employer. 

Last month they began receiving checks stemming from the settlement. 

“It gives me goosebumps. I was so happy it was over with,” said Mike Garwick, an Army veteran from Tacoma. “I’m happy with what I’ve got now. It changes my life.”

In 2018 the veterans filed the lawsuit against VIEW, its operations manager and two board members for alleged violations of state laws that guarantee employees are paid for hours worked. Financial documents show the operations manager, Rosemary Hibbler, used the organization’s money for personal gain, instead of paying the veterans in a timely manner.

For three decades, VIEW assisted veterans experiencing homelessness, incarceration, addiction, and other challenges with stable housing, job training and employment. The mission began unraveling in 2015 when the board hired Hibbler to take over the operation, according to court documents.

A 2019 KING 5 investigation found while the workers’ paychecks for factory work were bouncing, Hibbler, who had complete control of the organization’s finances, routinely took home extra pay. 

Documents filed by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office revealed in four years at the helm, Hibbler should have collected $60,000 per year, $240,000 total.

But bank records show she paid herself three-and-a-half times that with a total of $850,000 in that time.

Financial documents obtained by KING 5 show Hibbler used VIEW’s debit card for personal expenses such as gas, rent, utilities, Direct TV, eating out at restaurants, and gambling. The records show she spent nearly $200,000 of the veteran’s money inside Pierce County casinos.

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“I’m an American. I’m a human being. I’m one of God’s creatures. How can you treat people like that and sit on a stool at a casino and spend someone else’s money?” said Darrell Booth, an Airforce veteran from Lakewood in 2019. 

Booth died in 2020 at age 74.

The money to pay back the employees comes from a $1 million stipulated judgment against VIEW, stemming from a separate lawsuit filed by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office (AG) against VIEW and its leaders in November 2019. 

The suit, prompted by the KING 5 investigation, alleged violations of the state’s Charitable Trust Act and other laws.

“I’m happy that the veterans were able to recover at least a part of what they were owed and proud that our lawsuit ultimately led to Ms. Hibbler being stopped,” said Puyallup-based attorney Jim Pizl, who represented the veterans in the class-action lawsuit.

KING 5's reports also led the AG’s office to ask a Pierce County Superior Court Judge to seize control of the charity, the first request of its kind in state history. In November 2019, AG investigators swarmed VIEW offices. They seized records, changed the locks and shortly thereafter ousted Hibbler and the two board members left at the organization.

Hibbler denies wrongdoing. In a 2019 interview, she blamed VIEW’s problems on poor financial practices by former VIEW managers.

“There was a lot of mismanagement, a lot of missteps,” Hibbler said. “So I had to basically start over. I did not take the VIEW’s money and use it to gamble.”

In a January 2021 email, Hibbler, who is African American, alleged KING 5 and AG Bob Ferguson were motivated by racism.

“With the climate being as it is today, it amazes me that KING 5 is still taking a position to support discrimination and racism," Hibbler wrote. “The state violated my rights, never conducted an actual investigation and was led to act based on information you provided in your reports. I won’t go into the facts because you’re not interested in truth, just ratings.”

VIEW’s mismanagement under Hibbler left many of the veterans, including 65-year-old Wallace Pruitt, of Tacoma, back out on the streets. For months he lived in his car or motel rooms when he could cobble together the money. He’s currently in housing and the $7,500 from the lawsuit means he can pay off longstanding debts.

“That feels good to get all that debt behind me. Like a weight off your shoulders. You can’t do nothing unless you got good credit,” Pruitt said.

Army veteran Walter Hamilton of Beaverton, Oregon, age 65, lived in his car for nine months. He’s back in housing and says the $6,000 he obtained from the settlement is being used to pay off credit cards.

“After being homeless and all of the trials and tribulations over the last three years, for me it’s kind of a reward, for making it through,” Hamilton said. “I’ve already paid off three credit cards, and that was a good feeling.”

Mike Garwick, age 64, ended up homeless and received help and shelter from the Tacoma Rescue Mission. He’s in an apartment now and the $13,000 in settlement money will be used to realize a lifelong goal.

“I’m going to buy a car. I’m tired of riding the bus. I got a valid driver’s license. I’ve just never been able to afford a car. And now I can,” Garwick said.

Rosemary Hibbler was never arrested or charged with a crime related to activities at VIEW. The Criminal Justice Division of the AG’s office has an open investigation into Hibbler. A spokesperson said the case stalled when the two board members wouldn’t cooperate.

“We did receive a referral from the Pierce County Prosecutor to look into criminal charges. However, in order to prove theft, we would need to have the cooperation of the now-former board members to confirm Hibbler was not authorized to do what she did. We have not had that. Our investigation remains open in the event that changes, or new evidence comes to light,” said Brionna Aho, communications director for the AG’s Office.

The veterans said they are grateful to recoup some of their losses, but that justice would mean seeing Hibbler and the board members held to account.

 “The money always comes in handy, but I’d give all the money back in a heartbeat just to know that this woman has finally gotten locked up. This should have never happened,” Hamilton said.

“I just want Rosemary caught at some time and be prosecuted. She deserves to be prosecuted,” Garwick said.

The total amount of the settlement agreement is $202,465. According to attorney Pizl, the amount owed is $604,000. The veterans are suing the board members, Donald Hutt and Gary Peterson, for the difference.

“Because Peterson and Hutt continually ratify Hibbler’s (forged checks), it is believed that there is an ongoing conspiracy between Hibbler, Hutt and Peterson to defraud VIEW and as a result, its employees and tenants,” wrote Pizl on behalf of the veterans in the legal complaint filed in June 2018.

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