Thursday, August 9, 2007

ADA Part 4

Part 4 - Railroaded, Websited and Resurrected
(The Final Installment of a 4 part series.)
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I was banned from VFTT right before Sarah and I headed for the White Mountains for vacation. During our week long vaca it was my goal to take on the Fitch 46 Record Attempt. I wanted to re-enact the exact routes the Fitch Brothers used in the 1970's, in the same way they did, unsupported. My head was not in the adventure but I tried it anyway. I made it 43 Miles with over 11,000' of elevation gain in the one day I was out there... but high on Mount Whiteface I was reduced to tears. I cried and cried at being such a failure. As I tried to run through these mountains, I was no where near ready to break ANY record yet people were donating to my cause in a few North Country Stores even as I sat there and cried. I was quitting, heading down the mountain to start over... and so I did.

When I returned home, my return to VFTT was delayed by Darren with no response when e-mailing him. Finally an e-mail came. IN the e-mail Darren spoke about how hard it is to do the kind of fundraising I was doing and he was curious to see how things were going. Where the money was coming from and where it was going to. He was very nice and discreet when asking... and I knew the info was public knowledge.. so I shared what I had with him. I sent him a vague e-mail that was only the basic's that I had from the last Team Sherpa Meeting. Next thing I know my phone rang.. it was Darren. While on the phone, at 11:30pm, he asked me what seemed to be a million and a half questions pertaining to the money we had spent on the bike, copies, office supplies, gas, etc... Business expenses. Darren was not only furious but acusatory. He told me how he called a few folks from the website and they all ready wanted to post on VFTT Team Sherpa's financials and put me out there for the whole world to see. He even mentioned that one guy wanted to "phyiscally hurt" me. I was pretty nervous on the phone and answered his questions as best I could. Darren kept me banned from his website until I could e-mail him EXACT numbers from Team Sherpa. As the days ticked by I kept sending Darren bits and pieces of more financial info as I found it... he continued to lambast me calling me a thief and a liar in e-mails. I gave him my reasoning that I had done nothing wrong because they were legitimate business expenses.

I called PJ that night and we talked on the phone for a bit. He then called Darren himself and spoke with him. However, details from that conversation were never divulged to me. The next day I called my sister and she e-mailed me all of the exact numbers as she had them in her ledger in terms of the funds coming in and out. I placed all of the info in a microsoft spreadsheet and word document and then sent it off to Darren. For whatever reason, Darren was not satisfied and was convinced that I was a crook and had "stolen" money for my own personal gain. He then let the dogs out. I was unbanned from VFTT and what seemed lik a whitch hunt began. Immediately on VFTT was a thread that was created by a guy whose real first name is Tim. Tim painted an evil picture of me on the web calling me a thief and a liar.. having taken everyone who donated to Team Sherpa, or whom bought a DVD, for a ride. I knew it wasn't true... but people believe everything they read and are easily persuaded.. especially in large groups.

Tim had also called the NH Attorney Generals office and found out that I was never registered as a Non-Profit organization or as a 501(c) organization. I recieved an e-mail from the AG's office demanding I contact them to resolve the issue or I face jail time. I was a nervus wreck, I had no clue what the hell was going on. Except I knew I had been set up and taken for a ride. Tim even posted on VFTT that I was not a registered non-profit and that now people had donated money to nobody but ME. As the replies to the VFTT thread poured in.. it was obvious that everything I had worked for and built from January to August was now crashing down in front of me. PJ promised to help me with Darren and Chomp in getting them the numbers... he did nothing and left me to the vultures (if you will) and simply said, "John, there's a poison in VFTT and you're drinking from the wrong cup." In a hast frenzy I e-mailed the forum in trying to explain myself to the many members.. but the damage was done. Nothing I could have written was going to help me. I was a sucken ship.

I immediately set up a meeting with a CPA, the ADA and the AG's office. I met with each one by one and the AG's office last. The CPA and I looked over all of Team Sherpa's records and told me that the only thing I did wrong was not properly establishing Team Sherpa as a non-profit. And even if I had resigistered properly, I still did nothing wrong as all of the expenses were indeed business expenses. I met with the ADA and the director told me that I also had done nothing wrong and that I still had their full support in my fundraising ventures. I then met with the AG's office and provided her with proof that I was raising funds on BEHALF of the ADA, had not registered as a non-profit properly and would do anything to fix any future issues. The only issue at hand was DVD sales... I was required per advertisement to donate 100% of all DVD proceeds to the ADA... of which I had done. I even repayed all ear-marked items to the Team Sherpa account and paid the ADA every penny we owed them. I even paid PJ his $2000 back for DVD creation.. and one very upset friend of mine whom wanted to be sure his money was going to the ADA.. I donated in his name from my own pocket. Now not only was Team Sherpa broke, all monies had been forwarded to the ADA.. but I was also broke.

Tim, who started the thread and contacted the AG's office about me had also contacted all of the Newpapers who had run a story about me. The Portsmouth Herald ran a story about everything.. I stole money, as not a non-profit, etc and also painted a bad picture of me. I called the reporter and told her the person who called was simply making a personal attack on me.. that I had met with the AG's office, the ADA and a CPA and I had been cleared yet.. she refused to run a story clearing the air. Tim told everyone he was simply "trying to help me.. sincerely." Almost a month later.. the same Tim who wanted nothing but to help me had created a website dedicated to me: What great help he was.

After all of the fiasco was done (it took the whole month of August), Team Sherpa was now nothing more than me and my family and a few close friends who knew the truth. We only accept money for the ADA in the form of a check and DVD's were no longer sold via cash or online. Check only. BUt it didn't seem to matter... we went from selling DVD's like hot cakes and raising thousands of dollars to NOTHING. We were sunk. No one was buying DVD's and no one was donating. People on the trails while I continued to train would stop me and ask, "Hey.. aren't you that kid who stole everyones money??" Some hikers even threw rocks at me as I ran buy. I had a website dedicatd to me calling me a douche, newspapers running negative stories about me and one huge headache. Needless to say.. I was going back to therapy.

But what about Cannon Mountain and the record attempt? I called PJ and asked him one more time if he had sent in the $150 application fee to Cannon to use their facilities.. it had been over 3 months since our meeting with them. Turns out he never sent it in. Team Sherpa met and I broke the news to them. We were free and clear with the ADA and the AG's office but we no longer had an event location. We were WAY behind in planning the event.. so we dropped it. No more Cannon Mountain Festival. PJ stopped returning my calls and he even stopped e-mailing me. To this day I'm not sure if he is the one who was the mole in Team Sherpa.. but he certainly is a top suspect. In fact there are a few suspects... and to this day it is hard to determine who I can even trust. Darren on VFTT, took the original thread and edited it so that people could read "just the facts." However.. he and Tim got in some last words without myself being able to rebute them. Their last words once again painted the wrong picture, was based on hearsay and what THEY believed to be the truth and nothing more. It was to say the least a "witch hunt."

Since August of 2005 when all of the VFTT drama went down, I have continued to raise funds on behalf of the ADA. In the first 8 Months of fundraising we raised over $8,000 for the ADA. In 2006 we raised another $5,000 and in 2007 we have raised another $4,000. Our grand total is over $17,000 towards the ADA Research Fund. Not to mention the awareness we have raised which is just as important. What was important to me was not giving up on our mission to raise the funds especially after everything that happened. I wanted to help in any small way I could and we did. After 2005, Team Sherpa had held a Hike-A-Thon in the White Mountains of NH. We have held 2 Annual Indoor Soccer Tournaments. We have Walked in America's Walk for Diabetes Twice and I havd run 100 Miles in One Day. Nothing or nobody will ever take away the true satisfaction I feel in helping as much as we have. Through all the heartache it has been an amazing journey. I have my family and close friends to thank for it.

However, the time has come for Team Sherpa to move on to other charitable causes. There are MANY other organizations and causes in need of a hand and I wish to extend the hand we are capable of lending. The ADA has benefited greatly from our projects... and It has been fulfilling. It has also been heartaching, and depressing at times. I know Sarah appreciates what I've done for her, as well as other diabetics in her family. It is with a happy heart that I am eternally greatful for having the ability to do what I have done. I am certainly not a quitter... It may not be pretty but I finish everything I set out to accomplish. We did our best for the ADA and I am yet to do my best towards the 48 Speed Record. But I'll get there... if even slowly.

The reason this story was put on my blog is because 2 (TWO) years after everything happened on VFTT... people are STILL telling folks who have never heard the story that I "stole donated funds." This is a gross mis-representation of the truth. I neevr stole anything and was acting under the advice of those whom I was benefitting. I have admitted and still admit to my flaws in not establishing a proper non-profit organization.. however the return check of all those who donated in any way has always been their reciept. All monies that were spent on Gear such as the bike or running shoes.. has been paid for and returned to the ADA regardless if I felt it was needed or not. In other words... the couple that donated money for me to buy running shoes... I used THEIR money to buy the shoes and then donated the same amount out of my pocket to the ADA. Some folks continue to argue that "ear-marking" the money was my biggest mistake. And I always felt it was my good faith promise to continue to give the ADA what they were owed. REGARDLESS... two years later and people are still painting me as a thief and crook. I cannot make your opinion for YOU.. I can only tell you the very basics of this story in my own words in the hopes that it will better assist people in creating their own unbiased opinion of it all.

To those whom are faithful readers of my blog, I sincerely applogize that you once again have to hear of this topic. It is my every hope that a day will come that I myself will never have to hear it again myself. I'm tired of it, I'm done with it.. it's over. I appreciate your loalty to my endeavors and hope you'll continue riding along with me on this journey through life. We have much to accomplish and many places to visit... we'll get to where we're going.. one foot at a time.