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Ex-director of military charity found guilty of fraud after spending over $900,000 on herself

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The longtime president of a veterans charity co-founded by former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter was convicted Thursday by a federal jury in Washington, D.C. of spending money meant for the charity on jewelry, shopping and other personal expenses.

Patricia Driscoll, 40, of Maryland, was found guilty of two counts each of wire fraud and tax evasion, and one count of first-degree fraud, according to an announcement by U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu.

She remains free on her own recognizance and is due to be sentenced in March. She faces decades in prison.

Driscoll’s defense attorney decried the verdict, insisting his client broke no laws.

“The jury did not get it right — Patricia Driscoll is innocent,” attorney Brian W. Stolarz said in a statement. “We are very disappointed by the verdict and the government’s misconduct in this case. We will appeal. This is not the final chapter to this story.”

Driscoll resigned her position at the helm of the Armed Forces Foundation in July 2015 after 12 years of service amid a scandal involving what the nonprofit alleged was Driscoll’s misuse of funds.

The charity was established in 2001 to promote veterans’ emotional and physical health through outdoor activities and small grants to help needy military families pay bills. On its 2015 federal tax filing, it disclosed that it had found evidence that Driscoll had misspent more than $900,000 for personal purposes, starting in 2006.

The foundation reported about $44 million in revenue during those years, according to public tax records.

Driscoll was indicted in September 2016 on eight felony counts but three of those charges were dismissed before the trial concluded, court records show.

Prosecutors accused Driscoll of falsifying donors and donations, failing to disclose fundraising commissions she paid herself and using foundation money for personal purposes — including shopping trips, legal fees and covering bills for her private defense-contracting business.

Some of the suspect spending included a trip to a jewelry store, a grocery, a dermatologist and more than $65,000 in legal fees related to her accusations of domestic violence against her ex-boyfriend, famed NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, in 2014, according to court records.

Shortly after Driscoll was indicted, the Armed Forces Foundation announced it was suspending operations and planned to shut down.

The nonprofit was co-founded by former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, R-Alpine, who helped recruit Driscoll to run day-to-day operations. The mission was to support veterans by hosting events and awarding grants to needy servicemen and women.

Hunter left Congress in 2008 and was succeeded by his son, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, who promoted the organization and attended charity events after he was elected to Congress.

The elder Hunter served as an unpaid member of the nonprofit board as his career in public office winded down, at one point serving as chairman. He left the foundation in 2012.

In an unrelated criminal proceeding, the younger Hunter and his wife and former campaign manager, Margaret, were indicted in August on 60 counts of felony crimes stemming from their alleged personal use of more than $250,000 from the coffers of Hunter’s political campaign.

Both Duncan and Margaret Hunter have pleaded not guilty to all charges. Duncan Hunter was re-elected to a sixth term earlier this month and faces trial next year.

Neither the former or current East County congressman immediately responded to requests for comment Thursday.

Driscoll was the subject of sometimes-colorful news articles in 2014, when she got into a bitter dispute with her ex-boyfriend, NASCAR’s Busch, known as “The Outlaw.”

The two met in 2010 and began dating. Driscoll recruited Busch and the NASCAR organization to help the Armed Forces Foundation’s cause. Working together, they raised money to assist military families and brought veterans to races to boost their morale.

The couple broke up in 2014, and Driscoll accused Busch of domestic violence. She alleged he smashed her head against the wall of a motor home at Dover International Speedway in September 2014. She sought a temporary restraining order that led to a court hearing.

At the hearing, Busch testified under oath that he believed Driscoll was a paid assassin. He said he once saw Driscoll go out for the evening dressed in camouflage and boots and return hours later wearing a trench coat over an evening gown spattered with blood and “other matter,” according to reports

Driscoll later said some of the stories Busch told on the stand seemed to come from a movie script she had been writing.

NASCAR suspended Busch in early 2015 amid the allegations and later reinstated him when prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

The Armed Forces Foundation’s relationship with NASCAR drew the attention of an investigative reporter for Kickin’ the Tires, a website that covers stock car racing. The news site obtained foundation records that raised questions about Driscoll’s handling of the funds and published its findings in a news article in 2016.

Federal investigators later found evidence that Driscoll misused foundation assets and tried to cover up the misspending. She also made false statements to donors about how their money would be used, investigators said.

For example, prosecutors alleged Driscoll told donors that 95 percent of their contributions would go to help military families and veterans. They said she made the claim knowing that only a fraction of the money would be used for that purpose.

“Driscoll also falsely categorized and caused others to falsely categorize expenses in the Armed Forces Foundation’s books and records as being for the benefit of the veterans, troops, and their families, when, in fact, they were for her own private benefit,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in its statement Thursday.

At the same time Driscoll was stealing from the charity, the foundation reported that it provided financial help to between as many as 220 military families each year, the foundation website reported.

morgan.cook@sduniontribune.com

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