WESLEY CHAPEL (FOX 13) - Two men are accused of collecting donations for veterans from Pasco County residents and businesses and pocketing the proceeds.
A quick-thinking business owner is the reason they're behind bars, but their scheme - and others like it - could have a long-lasting impact.
Veterans in the area, meanwhile, are disgusted knowing scammers are targeting people who support them. The scammers’ lies are hurting real veterans charities.
Jason Parzy, 37, thought he'd walk away with $300 cash as he entered the Cash For Gold store in Wesley Chapel, according to investigators.
But instead, he left in handcuffs.
Parzy and 42-year-old Billy Joe Fielder are accused of soliciting donations for a bogus charity they called the Florida Veterans Relief Fund.
The owner of Cash For Gold, Trevor Campbell said he knew something was up from the minute the pair came into his store.
"It was automatically off, from the very beginning, the way that he was talking," Campbell explained.
He says on Wednesday, a man using the name David Jenkins claimed he was collecting money for needy children to take them on a Walmart shopping spree. The red flag for Campbell was a call he answered six weeks ago. It was the same story.
He hung up and called the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
Thursday, an undercover detective made the transaction with Parzy, who then claimed the funds were for the children of veterans. Fielder was arrested for driving Parzy to the store and recruiting people to conduct the same scam.
“It’s wrong to steal money from veterans… It hurts legitimate organizations,” the president of Florida’s Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, Michael Bousher said. “There's a stigma that people get that they don't give as much now, or they are concerned about giving to veterans organizations, because they don't know if they're a legitimate organization."
Bousher says his group is a sweat-equity organization, made up of volunteer veterans. They typically work for donations.
“We will sit in front of a super market, we will pour beer at a sporting event or a major event, we will do a golf tournament," Bousher said.
While Campbell didn't fall for the scam, detectives found a $100 check written by a different business in Fielder's vehicle. They suspect more people may have been fooled into thinking their dollars were doing some good.
“They're just screwing it up for everybody else. Everybody is just trying to make a difference," Campbell said.
Both men are facing charges of grand theft fraud. Detectives believe this is an ongoing scheme, with others involved, representing both real and fake charities.
Bousher says anyone looking to donate to a veterans organization should always ask the fundraiser if they are a veteran, if the money is staying local, and if so, how will it be used.