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Man accused of stealing money intended for disabled veterans

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

A man in charge of helping disabled veterans now stands accused of stealing from them.

Veterans who are unable to walk or work after returning home from war often turn to others for help, including the nonprofit group Tennessee Disabled American Veterans.

The volunteer group operates on fundraising and grants to help those vets, but the Channel 4 I-Team has learned Thomas Keller, a former treasurer with the agency, is now accused of stealing from those men and women who desperately needed the money to move on with their lives.

Clay Phillips knows all too well how hard it is for returning soldiers. He has the scars to remind him of his time at war, including severe injuries to both his ankles.

Jumping out of airplanes as a Navy cryptologist during the Cold War days left him disabled, so he now volunteers his time with Tennessee Disabled American Veterans. But, he said what he found as a former inspector general of the organization is nothing short of despicable.

"Within about a week, I found about 143 checks that had been written and had not been authorized," Phillips said. "As a disabled veteran myself, there couldn't be anything more deplorable that somebody could do to a veteran, let alone a disabled vet."

Keller is accused of stealing nearly $250,000 from the injured servicemen and servicewomen he was supposed to help. Keller, who we're told is also a disabled vet, is no longer working with the group and is now charged with theft.

Despite the alleged betrayal by a former employee, Phillips said Tennessee Disabled American Veterans continues its important work and would like to get the money back.

But, Phillips knows that's a long shot.

"If the money could be paid back, that would be a bonus. Other than that, the trust has been violated. It's a permanent violation, and I just don't know that he could do anything to pay back this debt," Phillips said. "I think the reasonable thing to happen in this case, as far as an outcome, is that Mr. Keller's actions should be punished."

Representatives for Tennessee Disabled American Veterans said they were able to file a claim with their bonding company and recover a lot of that stolen money, so they didn't have to stop operations.

As for the man accused of stealing those funds, Keller will be in a Davidson County courtroom next month.

The Channel 4 I-Team tried to reach him for comment about this story, but his attorney declined an on-camera interview, saying it wouldn't be appropriate to talk now since the case is still pending.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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