GOP congressman accused of lying on resume faces questions over $25k funds for child burial garden

Andy Ogles  (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Andy Ogles (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A Republican congressman who was recently criticised for misrepresenting his educational background is now facing scrutiny after he refused to explain what happened to money he raised to build a burial garden for children.

Congressman Andy Ogles of Tennessee raised tens of thousands of dollars through a GoFundMe account that featured the photo of a stillborn baby.

The page was ostensibly to raise money to build a burial garden for the child, Nashville News5 uncovered in its investigation.

After Mr Ogles refused to answer News5 reporters' questions over the phone, they confronted him as he was leaving a political event.

The reporters reminded the congressman that if he simply provided proof the story was false — any proof that the money went to its intended purpose — they would go away.

He responded by climbing into a truck and slamming the door.

In 2014, Mr Ogles used a photo of his own stillborn child to raise funds for a burial garden for children who had died. The garden was reportedly to be called “Lincoln's Place”.

The GoFundMe included the line "help us help other families”.

"No family should have to bury their child; no child should be alone," the page says.

The garden would have included benches for parents visiting their children's graves, a life-size Jesus statue, and spots for flowers and other memorials.

The campaign raised approximately $25,000. News5 confirmed with GoFundMe that the funds were sent to Mr Ogles.

Journalists at News5 revealed that they were turned onto the story by donors who said they felt swindled by the congressman.

One donor said they were left with "gnawing questions" about how their money had been used, especially after reporting revealed the congressman had misrepresented his education.

The News5 journalists visited the cemetery where Mr Ogles' child is buried to see if a garden had been created anywhere on the grounds, but found nothing resembling the proposed garden.

Approximately a year after the initial campaign, The Tennessean also questioned Mr Ogles about the funds. He told them at the time that none of the money had been spent as state laws governing burials had stalled the garden's creation.

It's unclear what laws Mr Ogles was referencing.

Reporters spoke with cemetery staff who were familiar with Mr Ogles, but reported that neither had seen any movement toward the creation of the garden in years.

They also spoke to one donor who claims they confronted Mr Ogles about where the money had been spent and demanded a refund after the congressman allegedly failed to answer. The donor's refund was granted.

After refusing to comment on the story to News5, Mr Ogles sent a letter to The Tennessee Star claiming the money went to help other families handle the burial costs for their children.

Mr Ogles' letter includes a complaint that News5 reporters had asked him questions about the funds, even when they involved a taboo subject like child death.

"I knew politics could be ruthless, but I never expected it to sink to such disgusting lows as to have a reporter calling around to my close friends asking about the death and burial site of our beloved son, Lincoln, and question our giving in his honor," the congressman wrote.

Mr Ogles said that "exploiting the death of any child in an attempt to gain some sort of journalistic fame is vile”.

The congressman includes a quote from a man named Andy Miller, who claims to know that Mr Ogles used the money to help families with burial costs.

However, other reporters noted that Mr Miller, a known GOP donor in the state, also had to settle a federal fraud case for $7.8m in 2016. Federal prosecutors charged him for allegedly violating anti-kickback statutes, according to The Tennessee Ledger.

The Independent has reached out for comment.