NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — What did Tennessee Congressman Andy Ogles do with tens of thousands of dollars meant for a children's burial garden?
Now, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has uncovered more questions that the freshman Republican won't answer.
It's a story that goes far beyond questions about Ogles' inflated resume. It's a story that stems from a personal tragedy — the stillborn death of a child whose photo Ogles sometimes posts on his political social media — and a GoFundMe that allowed Ogles to rake in tens of thousands of dollars for what was supposed to be a children's burial garden.
Yet, what makes it a story is the fact that there is no burial garden, no one knows where their donations went, and Ogles refuses to say what he did with the money.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates reached out to Ogles' office but never heard back, so we approached the Maury County Republican as he left a recent political event.
"Congressman, this doesn't have to be a story if you just offer some evidence it went for a good cause," we told him, as he got into a truck and slammed the door.
Still, it's a story so sensitive that the people involved are reluctant to comment publicly.
One donor said he almost felt guilty about passing along the tip. Another said, "It just feels like a topic you can't touch. It's taboo."
But the story that NewsChannel 5 Investigates heard repeatedly was how two days after the loss of the child in 2014, Ogles himself used a photo of his stillborn baby for a GoFundMe for something he called "Lincoln's Place."
It implored: "Help us help other families. No family should have to bury their child; no child should be alone."
It promised a "burial garden" that would "create a place for Lincoln's new play friends," "a life-size statue of Jesus watching over the children," along with "benches for families to sit while surrounded by flowers."
And people responded to Ogles' emotional plea, donating almost $25,000.
GoFundMe confirms Ogles got the money.
One of the donors told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that she wanted "to believe that that money went for something good," but Ogles' other challenges with the truth left her with "gnawing questions about what happened to these funds."
Of course, this would not be a story if the future congressman had taken the money and used it as promised, or at least used it for a good cause.
But in the cemetery where Lincoln is buried, we checked from one corner to another.
And just like the tipsters had feared, there is no children's burial garden, no benches where families can sit, and no life-size statue of Jesus.
In fact, a Tennessean story a year after the GoFundMe raised the question of what happened with the money, quoting Ogles as blaming government bureaucracy.
"What we found over the past year as we have been going through this process is that burials are heavily regulated," he claimed.
He insisted none of the money had been spent.
In fact, there is no evidence that any government regulation would have prevented the purchase of several cemetery plots for burying children.
Funeral director Pam Stephens of Williamson Memorial Funeral Home was also quoted saying she still planned to meet with the family to "help organize a unified effort to aid parents dealing with the financial and emotional trauma of burying children."
Eight years later, Stephens now tells NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Ogles never followed through.
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"Back at that time, we could have helped them do something, but they never came back to us," Stephens said.
And the manager at the cemetery where Lincoln is buried tells NewsChannel 5 Investigates that he met with Ogles a couple of times, offering to let him start small with the purchase of several plots, leaving room for later expansion.
Neither knows what happened to the nearly $25,000 that people contributed.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates did speak with one donor, who said he asked Ogles directly what he did with the money. When he couldn't get a straight answer, he insisted on getting his money back and he got it.
Other donors, however, say they were never given that option.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates approached the story cautiously. We we told one donor, "Honestly, in this case, I hope he's able to provide me with documentation that the money went for a good cause."
But Ogles office never provided that documentation.
At that recent political event, we approached Ogles to ask if we could talk with him, but he ignored our request.
We pressed on, "What did you do with the money that people donated for Lincoln's Place?"
Again, he ignored the question.
"Congressman, this doesn't have to be a story if you just offer some evidence it went for a good cause."
And yet again, we got no answer.
In the freshman congressman, some may see reminders of George Santos and the disabled veteran whose service dog needed life-saving surgery.
George Santos ran a GoFundMe, but then kept the money.
The dog later died.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked one of the donors, "What would be your message to Andy Ogles?"
Her message: "Tell us what you did! Tell us where the money went!"
It was a message apparently lost on the congressman, who drove away without answering any of our questions.
Ogles did speak about the loss of the child at one political event last summer, describing how it was difficult to get insurance to pay the medical bills.
He somehow blamed Obamacare, claiming it prevented his health insurance and his wife's health insurance from talking to each other and working out who would pay.
As our investigation of Andy Ogles has discovered, with the Tennessee congressman, it's difficult to know what to believe.
UPDATE: We gave @AndyOgles a chance to tell us in advance what he did with the money.— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) March 15, 2023
Now, he puts out a statement to @TheTNStar, portraying himself as a victim and saying people should believe him that he used the money to help other families.
He offers no proof. pic.twitter.com/lICNDVhtzl
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