A Beaufort thrift store with ties to a charity under federal investigation was evicted this week.
Marines and Mickey and the organization’s founder, John Simpson, were served an eviction notice Monday afternoon at Vintage 154, a thrift store on Robert Smalls Parkway, Beaufort County court records show. Rent wasn’t paid for July or August, landlord Bryan Perrucci wrote in applying for the eviction.
The contents of the store were piled in the grass along the road Tuesday as people picked through clothes, furniture and other items. A Beaufort Police Department vehicle was in the median nearby Tuesday afternoon.
A handwritten sign flopped over an arm chair by the road advertised a half-off closing sale as Tropical Storm Julia soaked the items Wednesday.
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Yellow tape later cordoned off the mess, held in place by furniture like a bar stool and table.
Marines and Mickey’s mission was to send Marines and their families to Disney World and provide for families to attend graduations at Marine recruit depots in San Diego and on Parris Island, according to the nonprofit organization’s profile on the business networking website LinkedIn. A website for the organization, www.marinesandmickey.org, is no longer in service.
A Beaufort post office box address was listed on the LinkedIn page, and Marines and Mickey joined the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2015.
The charity and Simpson have come under scrutiny from federal investigators after complaints Simpson misused money raised for the organization and misrepresented his military service.
Two phone messages left for Simpson and two at a number associated with Marines and Mickey were not returned Wednesday.
Representatives of the Skip Wells Foundation believe Simpson received a $75,000 loan from Cathy Wells under false pretenses, foundation co-founder Jason Weeks said. Cathy Wells is the mother of Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, one of the service members killed during the shooting at a Naval Reserve facility in Chattanooga, Tenn., in July 2015.
Simpson told Wells he needed the money to start a barbershop in Beaufort in Skip Wells’ name, Weeks said. None of the money has been repaid, though Simpson willingly signed a promissory note when confronted in February, Weeks said.
The Skip Wells Foundation publicly cut ties with Marines and Mickey earlier this year following multiple joint fundraising events.
On the Marines and Mickey website, in multiple online postings and with a large tattoo on his arm, Simpson represented himself as a Reconnaissance Marine and drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island with decades of service, Weeks said. Simpson served four years and was discharged in 1997 as a private following a court martial, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported in July.
“He was living the lie in every aspect of his life without even realizing it,” Weeks said.
Other Marines’ families have accused Simpson of misappropriating money raised for Marines and Mickey and taking more than they pledged to donate via direct deposit, the Times Free Press reported. According to that newspaper, Simpson declined to discuss his record but denied claims he misused the money.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service began investigating Marines and Mickey’s financial practices in February, agency spokesman Ed Buice said Wednesday. Investigators are still following leads related to questionable business practices and potential fraud, he said.
The bulk of the investigation appears complete but is ongoing, and potential victims are still being sought, Buice added.
“It’s not unusual for us to have an investigation that lasts a while,” Buice said. “They’re not always wrapped up in 45 minutes like the TV show.”
The South Carolina Secretary of State’s Office said Wednesday that it has attempted to subpoena Simpson several times but has not yet been successful.
In an interview with Savannah television station WSAV in April, Simpson denied he misused the money and declined to talk about whether he misrepresented his military service, the station reported.
The nonprofit corporation Marines and Mickey, started in 2014 and registered to John Simpson and a Columbia address, was dissolved in June, according to state business filings.
Simpson also has ties to Peace, Love and Hot Dogs, a Boundary Street hot dog stand that appears to have been vacated. Peace, Love and Hot Dogs co-owner Vaughn Keown said recently Simpson had provided a “loan” to help get the business started.
Marines and Mickey signed a 19-month lease for the thrift store in January, Beaufort County court records show. Under the terms of the lease, the organization would pay no rent for the first three months while providing the landlord a $6,000 tax receipt.
Rent would then become $1,500 for three months and jumped to $2,000 beginning in July, according to the lease.
Reporter Madison Hogan contributed to this report.