INGLEWOOD (CBSLA.com) — Jason Wirtzer is a licensed pilot who claims to be helping out veterans by running a charity that raffles off planes to raise money for “no-cost pilot training for active and retired military.”
But is he?
Winged Warriors, based in Inglewood, claims to be a “nonprofit organization,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
The website says they offer flight lessons for vets, and up until December 2013, they were selling raffle tickets to win a 1948 Cessna 140 and other small planes.
CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein asked Wirtzer how many veterans he’s been able to help through the charity.
“We’ve got about 25 in the system right now,” Wirtzer said.
“How many vets have you trained?” asked Goldstein. “None, right?”
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll let you talk to my attorney if you want,” Wirtzer replied.
Paul Williams, a retired Army pilot, told Goldstein he still has his raffle tickets purchased, he thought, for a good cause.
Via Skype from Alaska, Williams told Goldstein he twice bought raffle tickets from Winged Warriors.
“Well, even if I didn’t win, I am still supporting troops,” he said.
Williams may not have won, but San Miguel resident Mark Donnelly told Goldstein he saw his name on the Winged Warriors Facebook page as the runner-up.
“I got a phone call saying I was the second-place winner,” said Donnelly, who added he was supposed to win a pair of pilot headsets worth $1,000 but never received them.
“Anyone that uses veterans or any other type of organization to try and run a scam to make money for themselves, that is just pretty upsetting,” Donnelly said. “It’s too bad that those type of people exist.”
The plane Donnelly and others were hoping to win was this 1975 Beechcraft Sierra , which had been put up for sale by Bob Hancock of Lake Havasu.
According to Hancock, he cut the price and agreed to sell the plane for just under $50,000 when Wirtzer offered to buy it to raise money for vets.
“I thought it was awesome,” Hancock said. “A lot of military in my family, and I’m a flight instructor and I even volunteered to give free instruction if they wanted to come out to Lake Havasu, so I was thrilled.”
But the transaction never went through after all three Winged Warriors checks bounced, meaning Wirtzer never owned the plane that claimed was being raffled off to raise money for vets.
A spreadsheet included in a lawsuit filed against Winged Warriors by the website designer who claims he was also stiffed shows nearly 4,500 tickets were sold across the U.S., bringing in almost $175,000.
According to California Franchise Tax Board, Winged Warriors is not recognized as a charity, and the Attorney General’s Office told Goldstein it’s not registered to hold raffles.
But Wirtzer was doing just that when we caught up with him a few weeks ago in Marina del Rey, this time offering another plane on the Winged Warriors website being raffled.
“Can you prove that you’ve trained 25 vets?” Goldstein asked. “You can’t, can you?
“I’d like to, I’d like to,” Wirtzer said.
“You’d like to but you haven’t, right?” replied Goldstein.
When asked if he’s scamming people, Wirtzer said: “Absolutely not.”
“You claim to be raising money for vets, you claim to be training vets, raising money for veterans,” Goldstein said. “Where’s the money going?”
“To the programs,” Wirtzer replied.
“What programs? You basically said you weren’t training vets, were you?” asked Goldstein.
At that point, Wirtzer sped off on his bicycle, pedaling away from any more questions.
But for Hancock and likely many others who may have been caught up in Wirtzer’s raffles, there’s no question about Wirtzer’s motives.
“He is the worst scum of the earth,” said Hancock. “I can’t imagine anybody being worse than what he has done to these veterans.”