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Military charity founder bows out

Michael Kerr, who set up trips to Disneyland for Iraq war widows and families, is temporarily surrendering leadership after a DUI arrest.

March 14, 2007|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

Bedeviled by controversy, the man who organized an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland for the families of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan has temporarily stepped down from his nonprofit foundation -- five days after his arrest for alleged drunk driving.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday, Snowball Express founder Michael Kerr said he and his wife, Jean, were taking an indefinite leave of absence from the organization to "focus our full energy on personal family matters."

The Kerrs were arrested Thursday night in Aliso Viejo -- Michael Kerr for alleged drunk driving and Jean Kerr for allegedly obstructing an officer. Jean Kerr's two children from a previous marriage were reportedly in the car when it was pulled over. The incident is under investigation, and no charges have been filed.

It was the latest in a string of troubles.

While organizing last year's Snowball Express, which brought nearly 900 war widows and children to Orange County for a weekend celebration, Michael Kerr endured a barrage of news media reports about his checkered past.

The revelations included a falsified job resume, an outstanding arrest warrant in Arizona for failure to pay nearly $50,000 in child support, a history of drug and alcohol addiction and a lawsuit filed by a former employer after Kerr failed to repay $78,000 in salary advances.

Kerr chastised the media for focusing on his past instead of his charity work.

But he continued to be dogged by negative publicity. In December, the state attorney general opened an inquiry into the finances of Kerr's foundation.

Then he was sued by another former employer, the Saywitz Co. of Newport Beach, for his alleged failure to repay $6,000 in salary advances, a case that was settled out of court in February for undisclosed terms.

Meanwhile, local Rotary clubs announced they would no longer work with Kerr in favor of launching their own project to aid military families.

Kerr vowed to bounce back. "Nothing ends here," he said in his e-mail. "In the fullness of time, we hope to remain of service and to lend whatever help we can to the families of the fallen through ... Snowball Express."

The Snowball Express board of directors issued a statement promising a "bigger and better" event this year and offering prayers for the Kerrs' "healing and well-being."

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roy.rivenburg@latimes.com

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