Dennis McKenna, who obtained World Trade Center steel for Tuesday's 9/11 monument dedication in Port St. Lucie and groundbreaking in Palm City, could face a state investigation into his charities.
The state said fines or criminal charges are possible if McKenna does not provide information about his three charities and their finances by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, two locals verified to be 9/11 first responders question McKenna's claim that he was a federal agent working in an official capacity at ground zero and have cut ties with his nonprofits.
McKenna, a 56-year-old Stuart resident, since 2009 has founded 9/11 First Responders of the Treasure Coast Inc., United States of America 911 First Responders Inc. and Ancient Order of Hibernians in America Father Mychal Judge Division 1 of Martin County, Florida Inc.
The nonprofits are registered with the state's Division of Corporations but are not registered and licensed as required to collect donations with the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The state initially asked McKenna for information by Aug. 30 but did not receive a response, according to agency spokesman Sterling Ivey. The state sent a second letter Sept. 4 saying he must provide the information or explain why his charities are exempt by the end of the month, Ivey said.
McKenna has declined to show Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers his nonprofits' finances or sign a release giving the federal government permission to release his employment records to verify he was a federal agent working in an official capacity as a 9/11 first responder.
There is no official registry of 9/11 first responders to verify that McKenna was at ground zero, or there in an official capacity.
McKenna has responded to some of Scripps' inquiries in the past year, but refused an interview for this story, referring questions to attorney Glenn Webber, who declined to comment.
Two Port St. Lucie residents and verified 9/11 responders are among McKenna's most vocal critics. Al Hickey is a retired New York City homicide detective who spent months digging through the ruins and identifying bodies at the Bellevue Hospital morgue. Steve Confino is a retired New York City police detective.
Hickey was vice president of 9/11 First Responders of the Treasure Coast until McKenna disbanded it after Hickey questioned his claims, according to Hickey and an Aug. 15 email McKenna sent Port St. Lucie City Manager Greg Oravec . McKenna in February launched USA 911 First Responders — without Hickey. McKenna is the only board of directors member, according to his articles of incorporation.
"Dennis McKenna is profiting off the dead, and he's trying to build himself up to a person he never was," Hickey said. "He's not who he says he is. He got caught up in lies, and now it's just snowballing where he can't call it back."
SHOW ME THE MONEY
State law requires charities to register before soliciting contributions and to renew annually. The form asks for basic information, such as the nonprofit's legal name and address and an accounting of its finances.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services sent a letter to McKenna's three nonprofits last month warning they could be violating the Solicitations of Contributions Act Chapter 496, Florida Statute 5J-7.004. If McKenna doesn't provide the required information about his charities, the state could open a case against him, spokesman Ivey said.
The Division of Corporations website shows all three charities are active. However, in the Aug. 15 email to Oravec, McKenna said he dissolved 9/11 First Responders and launched USA 911 First Responders after Hickey, his wife, Christine, and Confino "defamed" him.
Oravec in August had the name USA 911 First Responders removed from a collection box at the Civic Center to avoid confusion about where the money goes. McKenna had given the city the box to collect donations for its 9/11 monument.
McKenna claimed he doesn't take donations, according to Oravec and Confino. However, McKenna has solicited donations and sold mugs, T-shirts and other memorabilia at 9/11 memorials in Port St. Lucie and Martin County and held fundraisers at Port St. Lucie's Freedomfest, the Stuart Air Show and the Port Salerno Seafood Festival, according to Hickey, Confino and organizers of the two former events.
Tonya Taylor, the Port St. Lucie Civic Center administrator, said no one will be allowed to sell anything at Tuesday's memorial service.
"We don't want that day to be about anybody exchanging dollar bills," she said. "It's just not right."
"He was selling buttons, T-shirts, hats," Hickey said. "I walked out of there in disgust last year. This is a memorial, not a carnival. You don't do that. If you ask him where's that money going, he said it's for operational costs: lighting, cost to rent the park,
video and for the handicapped kids."
USA 911 First Responders' website states the nonprofit soon will have a "shopping page" with T-shirts, polo shirts, consumer electronics, coffee, iPad and iPod accessories, as well as computer repairs, sales and consultations. "A portion of our proceeds," it states, "will be used for our various charities and helping our local community!"
Confino said he spent $700 on T-shirts for McKenna, but was reimbursed only $150. He wrote it off as a donation and, for that and other reasons, cut ties with 9/11 First Responders of the Treasure Coast in 2009, two months after its inception.
"I asked Dennis for a receipt for the shirts," Confino said, "and he said, 'We don't take donations.' "
McKenna claims he was a federal agent on Sept. 11 and worked in his official capacity pulling dead bodies from the rubble.
"I was a rescue worker at the World's Trade Center back in 2001," he said at a June 2010 Martin County Commission meeting, adding he was on disability but would return to work. "I watched people come out with no arms. I watched people come out with half of their skull ripped open. And I watched the EMT and firemen go to work."
McKenna refused to provide Scripps his supervisor's name or employment records showing he was an active federal agent during 9/11. Scripps contacted his supervisor, who declined to comment.
When Scripps requested an interview late last month, McKenna insisted Hickey and Confino were not 9/11 first responders. However, Hickey and Confino provided Scripps their tax identification numbers, which are listed in a New York Police Department online database of personnel who for health reasons filed "notices of participation" as 9/11 first responders. The NYPD confirmed the ID numbers belonged to Hickey and Confino.
McKenna gave Scripps two letters from people claiming they were at ground zero with him, but the authors have not provided proof of their presence. Californian Jonathan McQuade, who claims he was a civilian volunteer, and Michael Kuzemchak, whose letter claims he is a retired New York City police detective, said they were sworn in and deputized by the NYPD.
"We don't deputize people," an NYPD official said, explaining the agency's policy is to identify him as a "press spokesman" and not by name. "Anything connected with us (on Sept. 11) would have been run and staffed by us."
Kuzemchak said McKenna also was sworn in at ground zero, but McQuade told Scripps McKenna wasn't, explaining it wasn't necessary because he was a federal agent.
Yet in their letters, McQuade alluded to McKenna being a civilian volunteer and Kuzemchak said McKenna was a construction worker who volunteered his tools and heavy equipment. McQuade also told Scripps he and McKenna wrote letters for each other to document being at 9/11. Kuzemchak couldn't be reached for further comment.
McKenna provided Scripps a nighttime photo of himself and two other men, all dressed in what appears to be protective blue jumpsuits. McKenna said the photo was shot at ground zero. It's too dark to see the background and the photo gives no indication he was acting in an official capacity.
McKenna provided medical records showing he was admitted to a New York City hospital on Sept. 24, 2001, complaining of foot pain and smoke inhalation while part of a rescue team at the World Trade Center. He also provided heavily redacted personnel forms from the Department of Justice and Immigration and Naturalization Service that give no indication he was an active federal agent on Sept. 11.
NOT FIT FOR DUTY
Scripps has verified McKenna was an INS detention enforcement officer, which is not a law enforcement officer, until 1995, but it is unclear where he worked from then until 2002.
He also has claimed to be a "New York City cop" and, according to Hickey, a retired FBI agent. The NYPD police verification unit said McKenna never was employed there. An FBI spokesman said the agency does not release employment information.
"I was a New York City cop," McKenna said at a June 8, 2010, Martin County Commission meeting. "I know a lot of cops in New York City, and we did a lot of things up there that were great."
McKenna again said he was a "police officer" and World Trade Center rescue worker at a May 22, 2012, Martin County Commission meeting, and told a Martin County sheriff's deputy he was a "police officer, federal agent," according to his signed statement on a report taken May 27, 2006, after he reported seeing a man steal goods from a local store.
INS fired McKenna in 1995 for falsifying employment records because he had failed to disclose a 1979 felony charge, a delinquency in paying federal income taxes and failure to pay child support, federal court records show.
McKenna challenged the firing and appealed after an arbitrator ruled against him. The federal appeals court in 1999 upheld part of the arbitrator's ruling but denied other parts and sent it back to the arbitrator. Scripps could
not find court records to show what happened next, specifically if and when McKenna was reinstated.
McKenna's next known position was in Pembroke Pines in June 2002 working for INS Border Patrol. He was reassigned to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Florida under the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003.
McKenna, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 1993, requested a job transfer to a new location with new supervisors in 2006 because of his condition, according to federal records. McKenna was "temporarily totally disabled," a physician wrote to his employer. McKenna received workers' compensation while he was out of work for a year, according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission records.
ICE would not verify McKenna's employment history without his written consent. At the June 8, 2010, Martin County Commission meeting, McKenna said he was "separated" from ICE.
In January 2007, McKenna made an unscheduled and uninvited visit to ICE headquarters in Washington, where he told top agency officials he saw terrorist Osama bin Laden in Brooklyn, according to federal records. He was ordered to take a fitness for duty examination.
Three independent examinations concluded McKenna was "not fit for full duty," "should not ever carry a weapon," and his "psychological functioning preclude him from being able to perform his duties and responsibilities."
WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
McKenna said he founded his 9/11 charities to make sure people never forget the tragedy.
He organized events in Martin County while the Hickeys organized ceremonies in Port St. Lucie.
The Hickeys said they first had doubts about McKenna in 2009, and tried to distance themselves from him, but occasionally they would come into contact with him. Like Confino, they cut all ties with McKenna earlier this year.
The rift started after the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey rejected the Hickeys' application for a piece of World Trade Center steel for the Port St. Lucie monument, saying it had no more. McKenna used his contacts to get a piece of steel for Port St. Lucie, as well as future 9/11 memorials for Martin County, the Hickeys said.
"I told him we got shot down for the steel," Al Hickey said. "He said, 'I got the steel, buddy, I got the steel.' From there he excluded us and that set us off."
The Hickeys said McKenna told them they would work on the monument together.
"He said, 'As soon as we get the steel here I'm going to hand it over to you, and I want nothing to do with the steel because I have my own steel.' Next thing you know, he took over everything," Hickey said. "At that point, I just let him move forward because getting the steel was more important."
Confino said he quit 9/11 First Responders because, in addition to not being reimbursed for the T-shirts, it had turned into "the Dennis McKenna show."
"We wanted to sit down with an attorney. We wanted to see 501(c) 3 papers, a board of directors. We wanted it done the legit way," Confino said. "He was doing it all himself. All his concern was we were trying to take his dream away."
Confino said his doubts began 10 minutes after they met, when McKenna told him he had seen Osama bin Laden.
"I have nothing against Dennis McKenna. There's no hatred there," he said. "It's just, 'Who are you? What are you doing?' If you can't explain it to me, and I'm your friend, there's something wrong."
Oravec and Taylor said McKenna has been instrumental in the creation of Port St. Lucie's 9/11 monument. Taylor credited McKenna with getting the steel and securing architects who donated their design services. Taylor said McKenna also donated a TV for a raffle at Freedomfest and the proceeds helped build the monument.
McKenna was not invited to speak at Tuesday's 9/11 ceremony, but Hickey will emcee the event and he and his wife will be in charge of an art gallery of 9/11 photos, Taylor said.
"(McKenna) has had his opportunity to share his message," Taylor said. "This is giving other people an opportunity to speak. The day is for the victims, the families, the community and to provide a place for someone to reflect."
Oravec commended McKenna's involvement in the monument.
"Right now, he's a community volunteer, and he's working on a community project," Oravec said. "He's been a big part of it, and he's put a lot of effort into it. He seems very passionate about this cause, and he wants to see the memorial happen. He's given a lot of time and effort. That's all I know."
The following is what Dennis McKenna claims his charities have accomplished:
• 9/11 First Responders of the Treasure Coast raised $2,500 to help a Port St. Lucie woman with cerebral palsy obtain a lift that helps her into a swimming pool for water therapy, and arranged for Earl Stewart Toyota to donate a wheelchair lift to another handicapped woman in Port St. Lucie in 2011.
• The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America Father Mychal Judge Division 1 of Martin County, Florida
Inc. sponsored a first St. Patrick's Day parade and festival in Stuart in April.
• McKenna acquired several pieces of steel from the World Trade Center for future 9/11 monuments in Martin County. A piece of steel McKenna acquired is on temporary display at Fire Station 22 in Tropical Farms. Other monuments are planned for Fire Station 32 in Hobe Sound and Jock Leighton Park in Palm City.
• According to the organization's website, United States of America 911 First Responders has fed families, given parents money for children's furniture, wheelchair lifts and funeral arrangements, obtained hoists for handicapped children, donated to local youth programs, supplied Little League baseball gloves and cleats, helped churches of all denominations, sponsored emergency responders to catastrophes in other states, and helped raise a condo that collapsed and killed two construction workers in Hobe Sound.
A national political figure, featured in the New York Times and on "60 Minutes" and "The Today Show," also cut ties with Dennis McKenna after he spoke uninvited at her Stop Islamization of America rally in New York City on June 6, 2010, to protest a planned Islamic mosque at ground zero.
Pamela Geller, an anti-Islam blogger and publisher of the "Atlas Shrugs" website, did not post a video of McKenna's speech, omitted him from post-rally reports and did not invite him to speak at two subsequent rallies.
"He walked up during the rally and pleaded to speak, saying he was a first responder, and we allowed him to do so," Geller said. "He said some things that we do not endorse as an organization, using rhetoric of which we disapprove."
Geller said she "could not get him off the stage." Video shows McKenna commanding the stage for nearly 10 minutes then returning for almost five minutes, proclaiming to be back "with popular demand."
Geller and another woman on stage are seen trying to grab the microphone and get his attention for their chance to speak.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Excerpt from Jonathan McQuade's letter
"From the very first day, Mr. McKenna's natural leadership abilities served as an inspiring example. Amidst the absolute mayhem of the intense smoke, flames, dust and debris of the disaster area, he instantly commanded the respect of police, fire and rescue personnel, who immediately followed him in organizing rescue efforts, despite his outwardly civilian status. Well before any safety gear, such as respirators, were available for civilian volunteer personnel, he selflessly participated and observed in the removal of bodies of victims, undertook strenuous lifting and digging amidst intense dust and smoke, and persevered in the face of extremely hazardous conditions."
Excerpts from Michael Kuzemchak's letter
"I knew Mr. McKenna had law enforcement background, so we traveled together to the 61st police precinct in Brooklyn. Upon arrival, there were several other retired law enforcement and emergency service workers present. We were gathered up by a police officer (I cannot recall his name) assigned to the precincts auxiliary unit. He recorded our names on a roster and (literally) swore us all in for the day right in front of the station house."
"At the time, McKenna ran and/or owned a construction outfit. He volunteered the use of his tools and I believe at least one piece of heavy equipment. We went to his office with other volunteers to retrieve said equipment, returned to the 61st Pct. And then we were transported by police wagon to Manhattan by where we eventually made it to "ground Zero." Shortly, thereafter, Mr. McKenna and I were assigned to separate contingencies and I did not see him for the remainder of that day."
"At this time, I can say that I personally witnessed Mr. McKenna being sworn in, gathering his tools and being transported to Manhattan, as I was with him. I personally witnessed him in the area of West St. and Chambers St (which was around the designated ground zero area). It was at that point that, being he had tools, he was assigned to a different group than myself and we lost contact."
IN HIS OWN WORDS
The following are excerpts from Dennis McKenna's Aug. 15 email to Port St. Lucie City Manager Greg Oravec.
"Mrs. Christine Hickey, Albert Hickey and Steven Confino are not happy that I was appointed by the council to see through the monument project."
"Their motive is to maliciously slander and defame my character in efforts of removing me from any involvement in the monument and the steel which they feel they have the right to spearhead in Port St. Lucie. I immediately reacted by contacting Mr. Albert Hickey, Steven Confino and Christine Hickey and informed them that I had the documents, which vindicated me of any possible misrepresentation or any false allegations that I was not a first responder. I asked them to please stop spreading rumors and conduct themselves as brothers in which they claimed to be."
"Upon their non compliance, as president of the 9/11 First
Responders I removed Steven Confino and Albert Hickey's membership from the organization. After witnessing unprofessional conduct that they displayed at the council meetings and how they were conducting themselves in public gatherings I changed the name of our organization along with the logo and anonymous vote amongst the brothers to distance ourselves from Albert Hickey and Steven Confino. Mrs. Christine Hickey was only considered as a guest of Mr. Albert Hickey. We are now known as the United States Of America 9/11 First Responders that continue to do great charitable work within the Treasure Coast."