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October 28, 2021

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The Swindling of Our Wounded Warriors — A Request for Assistance *UPDATED*


By Linda Kellen Biegel

Those of you who live in Anchorage may have heard about a fundraiser put on by Arkansas transplant politico and drag performer Caleb Pritt for an organization called “Homes for Our Troops.” The money was supposed to be designated towards a home for Latseen Benson and his family. Latseen lost both of his legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq and required a more adaptive home to successfully complete everyday tasks. Homes for Our Troops was (is) in the process of building him one. It was still a few thousand dollars from completion when Caleb decided to organize a fundraiser.

Latseen is the son of former Congressional candidate and 2010 Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor, Diane Benson. Caleb was associated with the family because he arrived in Alaska when Diane hired him to run her 2010 campaign. After the election, Caleb stayed, deciding that he liked it up here. But Caleb brought more baggage than just his luggage to Alaska. Now there are a number of people who have had bad dealings with Caleb, but none worse than Diane, Latseen, his family and “Homes for Our Troops.”

Below is a statement from Diane which describes the events in her own words.
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Tony Vita, Diane and Latseen (far right) at the fundraiser

Statement From Diane Benson

Homes for Our Troops is one of the most successful of Veteran organizations with a virtually spotless record of accountability. What Homes for Our Troops provides is fully accessible homes for the severely wounded warrior and his family. It is one of the most generous ways a thankful society bestows its gratitude upon a Veteran for his sacrifice and service. It’s hard to imagine that someone would take advantage of such a noble cause and of the wounds of a warrior to enrich themselves. Yet it appears to have happened to my family. As many know, I am the mother of a severely wounded warrior of the Iraq War. Funds were raised and collected for my son’s fully accessible home, and then the funds somehow disappeared. Sadly, the person who collected the funds and befriended me and my family and sought our trust betrayed our trust.

Whatever his intentions were, Caleb Andrew Pritt (aka A. Caleb Pritt, Andrew Pritt, Caleb Pritt, Drew Pritt, Diedra, Diedra Windsor Walker, Diedra Richards, Diedra Richards Ho Jenkins), did in fact hold a fundraiser for Homes for Our Troops, August 13, 2011 for the sole purpose of raising funds for my son’s HFOT home currently under construction. None of the funds collected that night were ever turned over to us or to Homes for Our Troops. By his own admission he solicited donations for auction and contributions from Alaskan businesses and the VFW without keeping adequate record. Although he was the sole organizer of the event, even appearing on television news pushing the event, and sending out press releases in which he quoted himself, and announcing on Facebook the success of the event and that the event raised over $3,000, he seems unable to explain with any consistency how much was actually collected and what happened to the money. Most recent, according to his Facebook pages as Diedra and as Caleb, he claims he lost the money. Until that posting we had not heard this excuse.

As the days and weeks past after the fundraiser we became very uneasy that something was amiss. Caleb would tell us that a check was coming; or that a check had been sent but may have been lost in the mail; that some people hadn’t paid for their auction items and that he had to wait on that. More recently he claimed, to our surprise, that he gave $500 of the money raised to an unnamed scholarship. When pressed further he became agitated until eventually, further inquiries went unanswered. Frankly, what were we to make of this? How do you tell yourself that you exposed your family to an apparent con man who has preyed upon the good will of others and worse, used your son’s wounds; his loss of legs, to bait them? It’s a tough pill to swallow. Such disloyalty and gall burns the soul. The impulse may be to buy into the humiliation and rage and pretend it didn’t happen. Try to forget about it. But then, that is how such parasites thrive – by the silence of others.

It has taken proof and learning more about his character from others to bring us to the point of involving the Anchorage Police Department. To raise funds for a cause and fail to turn in the proceeds is simply unacceptable. Truth must prevail. Justice must prevail. We had the option of remaining silent, but we as a society and as citizens of a community have a responsibility to protect others by sharing the truth; not hearsay, but the truth. For to ever allow others to continue their misdeeds by ignoring their actions or offering excuses is not only enabling them and their bad behavior but is complicity.

Nothing can be more heinous in terms of fraud than to prey on the more vulnerable in our society for personal gain. Yet, such characters seem to endlessly surface. For those of us blessed with a conscience, we are incapable of comprehending how such a person can exist let alone conduct their dirty work. Yet, we have to be vigilant. They do exist and too often in the form of a compassionate face or as an all too “helpful” individual. When you have been victimized it is tough to find that balance between compassion for our fellow human beings and caution regarding protection from predators. Our challenge is to fight the cynicism that can creep in and mar our worldview and trust of others. Although we as a family feel taken, and will seek justice, we are not going to buckle and forfeit our humanity. To do so would allow such predators to win.

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Caleb’s story about what happened to the money has been shifting and changing not just with Diane and Tony, but with others (including me) as well. However, I didn’t know how bad it was until Diane called me and told me Caleb wasn’t even speaking to them anymore. That is when I started to investigate as well and here is what we came up with:

1) Caleb claimed (to me) that he wasn’t going to have anything to do with the money from the fundraiser. After talking to someone who helped count the money, I discovered that was incorrect.

2) Caleb claimed to have sent a check “right before Coronation” to “Homes For Our Troops” and a few of us kept talking to them to find out where it was. It turns out he never sent it…he cashed it. (I have a scanned-in copy of the cashed check with Caleb’s endorsement on it.)

3) Caleb requested of at least one person who wrote a check for a won auction item that they make the check out to “Caleb Pritt.” (I now have a scanned copy of that check as well.)

4) On two occasions last week, I practically begged Caleb to come clean with me if he had a problem or needed help. I told him that as a recovering alcoholic of 26 years, I had either seen it, done it or heard about it. I told him I’d stand by him if he was able to be honest right that minute. Both times, he stuck to his story…that he had sent the check. That story didn’t change until AFTER he was caught.

5) This seems to be a pattern of behavior for him. When Caleb was working early in the summer for a political candidate, he used the candidate’s personal credit card to buy a Go Daddy website for the campaign. When the candidate got the bill, it turned out that Caleb spent an additional $700.00 for his own personal use. The candidate fired him and kept Caleb’s confidence, thinking it was a one-time deal..

THE BOTTOM LINE: Homes for Our Troops is still short over $2600.00 for Latseen’s family house. You can help!

PLEASE DONATE for Latseen’s home on the website. (There is an explanation on Bent Alaska as to why the amount on the website is wrong.) We would like to be able to have all the money Latseen needs by his “key ceremony” (when they turn the house over to them) in a couple of weeks. It would be wonderful if we could do it online in the next few days!

Thank you in advance for your generosity. You guys are always the best!

*********UPDATE 3*********
To clarify the above — Latseen and his family has their house no matter what, Homes for Our Troops will make sure that happens. However, to cover the costs and make sure the money is there for the next veteran, recipients try to raise a target amount of money (in Latseen’s case, it’s $10,000.00) and I know the Benson family feels a strong need to do so. I did not mean to give the impression that Latseen would not get his house at all if the goal was not reached.

*********UPDATE 2*********
KTVA Channel 11 is currently working on a story about this for their news tonight. Stay Tuned!

*********UPDATE 1*********It keeps getting worse. It seems that Caleb received funds from an American Legion post as start-up money to cover the fundraiser expenses — $250.00. Also, as you can read in the comments, Caleb allegedly ran back to Arkansas with someone else’s laptop.

Comments

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Comments
50 Responses to “The Swindling of Our Wounded Warriors — A Request for Assistance *UPDATED*”
  1. So sad says:

    Saw him today in Little Rock, AR

  2. Robin says:

    Man, its to bad Bones is no longer with us. I would love to put he and Caleb in a room together and be a fly on the wall.

  3. D2Dem says:

    I guess we were lucky in out dealings with Caleb… when he first arrived in AK to participate in the 2010 State Dem. Convention he had not pre-paid his registration fees and such. He tried getting out of paying but finally relented and wrote a check… which bounced! After weeks of hounding him we went public and basically shamed him on Facebook. We got our money and then dropped him from all our contact lists and never responded to him again.

    That he had financial difficulties was obvious and his reliability certainlyquestionable, but this goes well beyond what I could’ve or would’ve imagined. All I can say is…

    Prosecute the prick Pritt!

  4. I know Drew Pritt and he's not a good guy says:

    We finally ran Drew, or I guess Caleb out of Arkansas. He’s pulled a lot of crap down here. What he has done in Alaska is by far the worst. Please press charges.

  5. J.E. Jumonville says:

    For the unacquainted, “Caleb” Pritt’s real first name is Andrew. I imagine he started going by Caleb (his middle name) when he moved to Alaska to put some distance between himself and his despicable existence back in the Lower 48. Drew Pritt is a consummate loser con-man and convicted felon who has done several short stints in prison in Arkansas and Tennessee for fraud. He’s a parasite who has swindled innocent people (his own family included) out of thousands of dollars who will simply pick up and move elsewhere once enough people in a certain state or locality catch wind of his shenanigans. He also has incredibly poor hygiene and enjoys stomping squirrels to death. He’s a miserable, sadistic prick who apparently doesn’t even have reservations about swindling an American hero who was horribly maimed for his country. If you see Andrew/Drew/Caleb Pritt in person please kick his as hard as you can in his tiny limp dick. No jury in the world will convict you.

  6. Horatio says:

    Drew has a long and sordid history of this kind of fraud. He was kicked out of college for embezzling from the Westminster Fellowship, a Presbyterian student organization. He was kicked out of his fraternity for stealing money from a brother. He was fired by Rep. Barbara Lee as an intern for stealing from her office petty cash. The hot checks were only the tip of the iceberg…Drew’s sticky fingers are well-known in Arkansas, a big reason why he tried to escape to the “last frontier”.

  7. M.D. says:

    I’ve known Drew Pritt (as he was known before he fled to Alaska) since 2003, when he committed serious acts of vandalism on a website we both visited. I can give so many stories of the scams he’s pulled, from swindling a Christian fellowship organization at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in ~1998, to several arrests for hot checks, to failing to file campaign finance forms, to swindling money from a fraternity at University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2007-8, to defrauding various GLBT drag organizations… the list goes on and on.

    And Linda, THANK YOU for comprehensively exposing Andrew Caleb Pritt for his perpetration of this scam. This is the lowest thing he’s pulled yet; we can only hope that soon he’ll be in prison, where he belongs.

  8. 70%er says:

    Yes. We know Drew (Caleb) Pritt well in the Arkansas blogging community. I had occasionally wondered where he made off to. It appears you good people have had the misfortune to meet him too. You have my condolences.

    I’m sure he’ll pop back up on local blogs, he just can’t maintain a low profile.

    Well, I’m glad that Sgt Bensen will not have to do without because of our con man.

    • AlaskanAmber says:

      He claims to either be back in Wyoming or your great state of Arkansas. He has told different people different places. If he turns up please let us know. He has cut off all avenues of communication at this point.

  9. Waay Out West says:

    If he was fundraising online it is wire fraud and checks mailed make it mail fraud, both federal offenses

    Mail fraud should be reported to the US Postal Inspector. They do take action.

    https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/

    Wire fraud should be reported to your State Attorney General, this is a current list with links (look for links to consumer complaints on your state’s site) :

    http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php

    Also report it here:
    National Consumer League’s Fraud Center (www.fraud.org)

  10. Zyxomma says:

    My dad was 4F because of diabetes; the same reason he became a double amputee. Stories like these make my blood boil.

  11. Linda, thanks for bringing this story to light. I am always astounded when someone goes to all the trouble to con someone else out of money, but it is even worse when the scummy scam creep does it to people who need help – especially when it is someone in the military who has given so much to all of us at a huge personal cost.

    I really hope they can track down the &%$#@# and throw him in jail where he belongs.

  12. Art in Juneau says:

    I contributed what I could, $50–not much, but if we all contribute what we can, it will help erase the major failing of Caleb Pritt, show support for Latseen Benson and his wife, and help Homes For Our Troops help another deserving soldier. Thanks to Linda Kellen Biegel for doing what you could to make things right. You’ve made a big difference.

  13. Sarah says:

    “Lost”, meaning “magically transported itself into my bank account.” What a scumbag. I really hope they are able to put this guy in prison before he does this to more people.

    PS: I just wanted to point out that almost all of this post is underlined. Would you please add a tag somewhere to make it easier to read?

    • AlaskanAmber says:

      I don’t think it went to his bank account. At the stip show at Myrnas which exactly a week after the fundraiser Caleb ran he was throwing money like it was water. He claimed that he won the split the pot earlier that day at Tudor Bingo. He also started talking about drag dresses that a friend of his out of state was going to be sending him for free since she was cleaning out her closet.

  14. Mel Green says:

    Just announced: Alaska PFD this year $1,174. Is Caleb getting one? — if so, is it possible for it to be garnished?

    • SuzySnowflake says:

      If he left the state, is he eligible to receive one? Or was he here long enough that he can still expect it to be deposited in his bank account or get a check in the mail somewhere? If the State is sending him one, maybe APD could somehow get it for safekeeping while this is all being sorted out?

    • AlaskanAmber says:

      No, he doesn’t get one. When he was fired from the Berkowitz campaign he moved back to Arkansas then for a while. He did the same thing he did this time- he ran quickly and without telling hardly anyone. He came back after a while but he was gone long enough that he said he missed the deadline. He was out of state for more than 90 days of last year. If he does get one we would be too late to garnish it for this year. The courts have to have a judgment against him for money then the PFD gets levied and the judgment usually needs to be at least a month out from PFD dispursment day.

  15. jamie says:

    This is way beyond sad. How could somebody swindle a person without legs? Somebody who risked his life for this country. This just makes me absolutely sick.

  16. Dagian says:

    Well, in case any of us haven’t read and taken it to heart yet, please read “Snakes in Suits” and “Without Conscience”. I find “The Sociopath Next Door” to be a bit oversimplified–but useful nevertheless.

    I am terribly sorry this has occurred. I hope this con artist is charged and convicted. I hope that Latseen Benson and his family are not further damaged by this individual.

  17. Phyllis says:

    Did Ms. Benson not check this guy out before she hired him to run her campaign?
    The guy is all over the internet and he’s nutty as a fruit cake, and a thief.

    • Phyllis, if you Google my name, you might come to the same conclusion. Political enemies do that on purpose…try to discredit. Caleb had run in a few elections as well as worked on some so it was very hard to determine fact from vengeful fiction. While there is a bounced check issue from the past, that was dismissed. Many people have that kind of thing in their past and being a candidate can magnify it. If you look, you’ll find there is actually a surprising lack of information on any other financial discrepancies. I believe that folks enabled Caleb and let things slide for years…just absorbing the loss and not reporting it to the police, thinking they were the only ones. Unfortunately for Caleb, Alaska is too much of a small town to get away with that.

      • Mel Green says:

        To clarify re: “the bounced check issue from the past, that was dismissed” — as I wrote yesterday on Bent:

        In 1999, while he was a staff member for U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, a Republican, he was charged with a Class C felony for writing unauthorized checks on a U.S. Senate account. Charges were dropped in 2003 after he paid restitution and fees of $1,617.44, according to an August 5, 2005 story in the Arkansas News.

        The story is here: “Democratic candidate wrote checks on Republican senator’s account” (Arkansas News, 9 August 2005).

        • Mel Green says:

          (oops. wrote the story’s date wrong in my Bent post… fixing it…)

          • Yup, that’s the only one. And like I said, charges were dropped…and he had a good “story” for it all. The fact that it happened in 1999 and it wasn’t brought up in the media until 2005…by an opponent when Caleb was running for office…gave his “story” credence. Unfortunately, it looks like everyone since let him slide.

          • Mel Green says:

            (Answering Linda’s 6.1.1.1.1 — the reply function isn’t there on that comment) —

            Part of my point there was that it was much more serious than merely that “the charges were dismissed.” The fact that he paid restitution & fees is pretty damning of him. Even if the story was brought to Arkansas voters’ attentions by a political rival, the story was investigated by a newspaper journalist, & found to be true.

            That said, I can well imagine that Caleb explained it away much as he did in that late-Saturday-Facebook-note he tagged both of us on: “I used to have this problem and wrote bad checks, and then I got counseling and worked on it and conquered it.” If one believes in the possibility of redemption and change — as you do, as I do, as I’m sure Diane does too — then one can believe that Caleb had in fact changed. And perhaps take awhile to become aware that he in fact had not conquered that problem.

            The whole tone of his note was one of playing on sympathies about “redemption” — how much did he play on that all the way through his time here?

            Of course, the only way to that “redemption” is to tell the truth & accept the consequences. Which is why my advice to him when he unaccountably tagged me on that note was: tell the truth. Accept the consequences. But it takes courage to do that, which he lacked.

          • Mel Green says:

            Oh yeah, last point re: playing on other people’s sympathies about “redemption” — whoever he was successful with, whoever did not call him to account when he did something wrong and let him get away with it or defended him about it — they were enabling him too.

            This doesn’t excuse him for whatever wrongs he committed. But it does lead to questions about the responsibility of other people around him..

  18. Mel Green says:

    Caleb Pritt is a former contributor to Bent Alaska, Alaska’s LGBTQ blog — Linda linked to our story Homes for Our Troops: “Money from the fundraiser was lost” (Caleb Pritt) in her post. Caleb was widely known in the Anchorage LGBT community both under his own name under his drag persona Diedra Windsor Walker and variations (see Diane’s list of his various pseudonyms). Before coming to Alaska, he was a sometime political candidate in his native Arkansas under the name Drew Pritt, & ran there for lt. gov. in 2005; he also was once charged with a Class C felony for writing unauthorized checks on a U.S. Senate account when he was a staffer — see the Bent Alaska story for details. Word among his former Facebook acquaintances this morning is that his parents sent him money & that he’s fled back to Arkansas.

  19. Elsie says:

    I’ve spent some time this morning trying to read what I could about Sgt. Benson’s situation. In fact, I read a distressing post about him and his wife being previously mistreated by a Texas home builder at http://txpeddler.blogspot.com/2010/03/veterans-beware-story-of-baba-bensons.html

    Eventually, I finally figured out the home lacking completion now is in Colorado. I also confirmed that the organization, “Home for Our Troops”, is highly regarded at Charity Navigator, “Your Guide to Intelligent Giving.”

    Finally, all that led me to making my own contribution to the new home because the young couple has suffered so much since his terrible injuries in Iraq, and they just don’t need to suffer anymore awaiting the completion of their new, adapted home.

    Thank you, Linda, for this post here today about their need for some help to get that home completed. I hope that Caleb Pritt, or whatever the grifter’s name actually is at any given moment, *gets what he truly deserves*.

    (I have a vivid image, picturing a big, ugly, mean, prison cellmate named Bubba, but I’ll just let that go.)

    Best of luck to you, Latseen and Jessica! As badly as you were treated here in Texas where I live, please know that there really are some good folks in my state who wish you the very best, always.

  20. Rivrat says:

    Anyone who does this sort of thing, attaching themselves to a cause and receiving money for themselves deserves to be permanently branded as a thief, someplace visible. Just like the old days. They would not be trusted again. I do hope the police will be involved but I doubt there will be any change in a scumbag like Caleb Pritt even after punishment.

    I’m a veteran and I give to veterans causes, but I try to be careful and I usually investigate before I give. I have been taken in, in a spur of the moment donation, but only one time for the not so good guys. “Fool me once”…

    By the way, Ms. Benson, please run against Don again. I was quite pleased you did so well the first time. You would have done even better the second time had the pretty boy not run. Good luck in all your endeavors.

  21. Anonymous in TX says:

    I made a donation; hope it helps Mr. Benson get his home.

  22. Cinquifoil says:

    It isn’t just $2600…the character out Diva’d…

    And he’s an ouslander whose been alienating longtime Alaska Democrats at every turn.

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  1. […] Sep 2011 . “The Swindling of Our Wounded Warriors — A Request for Assistance” by Linda Kellen Biegel (The Mudflats); includes an account by Diane Benson, mother of Sgt. Latseen […]



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