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Navy: Blue Angels fundraisers not tied with service, museum

May. 4, 2013 - 03:56PM   |  
Blue Angels, Naval Air Station Pensacola,
The Blue Angels practice in front of a crowd of thousands at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. (Ben Twingley/Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal)
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Officials with the Blue Angels and the National Naval Aviation Museum are disavowing any connection with a Pensacola, Fla., group called Save Our Blues that is soliciting money on their behalf.

Further, state records indicate that Save Our Blues isn’t registered to solicit tax-deductible donations as required by signing up with the Florida Division of Corporations and the Florida Division of Consumer Services in Tallahassee.

Repeated phone calls from a reporter to Ron Nelson, listed on the group’s website as its director, weren’t returned. Neither were several calls to Save Our Blues accountant and tax attorney, Diane Porter, for whom an Alabama phone number is listed on the website

Nelson is listed in state records, on file in Tallahassee, as a principal in a company called The Life Team Inc., which is described as a for-profit venture. Nelson, shown on state records to have a Pensacola address, is listed on the Save Our Blues website as the vice president of another company called Profit Masters USA. Through the Save Our Blues website, prospective contributors can find promotional information about Profit Masters USA, which offers a series of products and services, such as directions on starting a fundraising business, among other ventures.

On the organization’s website and in an advertisement it purchased in the May 1 edition of the Pensacola News Journal, Save Our Blues states that its fundraising campaign is “intended to be of benefit” to both the elite flight demonstration team and the museum’s managing foundation at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

The ad states its fundraising goal is $50,000 and seeks individual donations as small as $10. Also sought by the ad are volunteers to help with a letter-writing crusade aimed at persuading Washington politicians to enact legislation to reverse the effects of across-the-board federal budget cuts that recently grounded the Blue Angels.

In a disclaimer, the ads state that Save Our Blues isn’t affiliated with the museum or the Navy “other than the support of each.”

In fact, neither the Blue Angels nor officials at the museum foundation knew in advance about Save Our Blues’ charitable plans, and both have requested that the organization stop activities using their names.

Lt. Katie Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Blue Angels, said Thursday that a Navy attorney has responded to the Save Our Blues campaign by sending the enterprise a letter requesting that it “cease and desist.”

Retired Navy Capt. Ed Ellis, the museum’s corporate secretary, said he reached Nelson by phone to protest Save Our Blues’ fundraising campaign.

“I said that we would need to know more about your organization if you’re going to solicit money in our name. We would need information about your financial controls and administrative costs,” Ellis said.

The museum has lost revenue this summer from cancellation of the Blue Angels’ practices, held at the adjacent Sherman Field. Although the practices are free to the public, they generate thousands of visitors on whom the museum relies to buy tickets to its theater, plunk coins in flight simulators and buy souvenirs in the gift shop. Still, the foundation’s tax returns in recent years show that it’s several million dollars in the black.

The Blue Angels, while grounded by the Defense Department through their 2013 air show season because of federal budget cuts, remain on the Navy’s payroll. The Navy also is funding maintenance of the team’s fighter jets and enough fuel so that the pilots can fly enough to maintain aviation proficiency.

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