Local Charity Accused Of Misusing Federal Grant Money

By Ben Hall

Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Nearly a third of homeless people in Nashville are veterans.

That's one reason the federal government gave a local charity hundreds of thousands of dollars to open a shelter for veterans.

But an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation reveals the money is gone and no shelter is operating.

Federal agents raided a home on Kendall Park Drive in Antioch in February.

They were hoping to find out what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money that was supposed to help homeless veterans.

Last week NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked a man who answered the door at the home, "Do you know what happened to the grant money?"

"Nope," the man replied through a cracked door.

Minutes later he closed the door and refused to answer any more questions.

Birdie Anderson operated her charity, Next Stage, out of the home.

Anderson received nearly $400,000 in federal grant money from the Department of Veteran's Affairs to help homeless women veterans.

But now that money is gone, and there is no shelter.

Investigators with the Department of Veterans Affairs allege in a search warrant obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, that some of the money was spent at casinos in Indiana and Mississippi.

Investigators claim Anderson got a $258,000 thousand dollar grant from the department by forging a letter from the Nashville Homelessness Commission in 2008.

The letter claimed that the commission planned to provide Next Stage with $179,000.

But the head of the commission told us his signature had been forged and there was never an agreement with Next Stage.

Bill Burleigh is executive director of the reputable Operation Stand Down, which helps Nashville veterans.

He remembers Birdie Anderson, who is a veteran herself, as former member of his board of directors.

She left to start Next Stage.

"She ought to be going to jail because she purposely lied and purposely defrauded, Burleigh said.

"She's a veteran too, so it's like one of your own kicking you in the face," he continued.

Most surprising is where at least some of the grant money was apparently spent.

Investigators say that checks and debit cards from Next Stage's bank account were used frequently at gambling casinos from 2007 to 2009.

In fact, agents seized multiple casino gambling cards, including players club cards for Casino Aztar in Indiana, as well as cards from Circus Club, Treasure Island and MGM Mirage.

They also took two brown bags and box of lottery tickets when they searched Anderson's home in February.

But that's not the only money investigators say Anderson squandered.

She received a $25,000 grant from the Department of Veteran's Affairs in 2007, to buy a specialty van to transport veterans.

But investigators later discovered she never bought a van.

Also in 2007, investigators say Anderson overstated the purchase price of a home on Kirk Avenue in Nashville.

She received $80,000 thousand dollars to buy it, and run it as a homeless shelter for veterans for 7 years.

It operated for a while, but is empty now.

Burleigh says there's no room for fraud when so many veterans are in need.

Melissa Briggs is one veteran living in a shelter operated by Operation Stand Down.

"It's my lifeline, my lifesaver. I am finally going to get to be the human I was supposed to be," Briggs said.

The idea of money meant to help veterans like her being squandered at casinos is hard for Burleigh to take.

"It kind of gets you. It's like a punch in the stomach, but we just have to move on," Burleigh said.

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