Fraternal disorder: As Moose Lodges struggle for relevance, an internal battle engulfs Folsom chapter

Sacramento area fraternal society expels leaders who demanded financial transparency

Located on the edge of Folsom’s historic district, the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge is a touchstone from America’s past and the site of a bitter battle over financial transparency.

Located on the edge of Folsom’s historic district, the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge is a touchstone from America’s past and the site of a bitter battle over financial transparency.

Photo by John Flynn

Inside the Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge in Folsom is a big dead moose. Well, what’s left of it anyway. Its head is mounted on a wall above a pool table, where its taxidermied eyes stare at nothing. As for the lodge in which the head resides, it, too, is eying a dim future.

Once boasting an illustrious membership of actors, athletes and even presidents, Moose Lodges are struggling as their bygone brand fades from relevance.

In May 2017, the Folsom lodge sought to reverse the aging process by electing a new leadership of Jeff Garcia and Bryan Greenwalt, two younger men with families, businesses and deep roots in their community.

Four months later, both men had been removed by Moose International, the order’s governing body. Why? Because they butted heads with the Folsom lodge’s longtime administrator Carl Murphy, who has retained the support of Moose International, despite 13 former lodge members claiming Murphy has failed to be transparent with hundreds of thousands of dollars handled by the lodge over the years.

“He doesn’t let anybody see [the finances],” Garcia said. “Doesn’t matter if you’re on the board. Doesn’t matter if you’re a member. They always said, ’Anytime you want to see something, just ask.’ But when you ask, you get told to fuck off.”

The current leadership mostly declined to comment for this story, but maintained they’re acting appropriately and the allegations are a baseless attempt at vengeance from folks who weren’t Moose material. But the more talkative, expelled members said the old guard white-knuckled their way of doing things and rejected reforms that likely gave the lodge its best chance at a resurgence.

Now, 130 years after the fraternal organization got its humble start in Kentucky, is Folsom’s Moose Lodge worth saving?

One of its most prominent former members doesn’t think so.

Folsom Mayor Steve Miklos said that, like many other lodge members, he’s written to Moose International on multiple occasions about Murphy. At the end of September, Miklos learned he had been suspended when his membership card no longer granted him entry into the lodge. So he said he cut it up and sent it to the headquarters outside of Chicago.

“The more we wrote, the more people got expelled,” Miklos said. “I am absolutely convinced this organization—with the current administration, from the national level down to the local level—is corrupt.”

Moose International’s reach has been shrinking across the United States, Canada and Great Britain over the last few decades. According to figures provided by Darryl Mellema, associate editor of Moose International’s official magazine, the order went from having almost 1.8 million members in 1986 to approximately 1 million members in 2015. “Numbers have slipped just a bit since,” Mellema wrote in an email.

Most of that slippage has come from the male side of the club, the figures show.

Even as the order sheds dues-paying members, Moose International’s nonprofit tax filings show that membership dues consistently yield $27 million to $30 million each year. Mellema said the group compensated through a combination of cutbacks and increasing dues.

Financial irregularities became a central issue at the Folsom lodge.

Hoping to reform the lodge from a perceived “good ol’ boys club” into a more dynamic nonprofit, lodge members elected Garcia as governor and Greenwalt as treasurer along with multiple new trustees in May 2017. The lodge reached a nine-year membership peak that summer, but Garcia, Greenwalt and others said Murphy didn’t take kindly to change.

“Mr. Murphy was belligerent, angry, disrespectful and bullying in his behaviors,” reads a letter signed by eight high-ranking members of the Women of the Moose, or WOTM. In the letter, the women accuse Murphy of repeatedly lying and, on one occasion, verbally assaulting former member Donna Bellinger Ryan. The letter also stated, “no WOTM board member goes to meet with him alone. We always have a witness.”

On January 11, SN&R reached Murphy by calling the lodge.

“I’m not allowed to discuss lodge business with outsiders,” Murphy said. “I could get in trouble.”

But Murphy doesn’t discuss lodge business with insiders, either, say nine former and one current lodge member who spoke to SN&R, along with seven more who signed a letter detailing a chronology of complaints. These lodge members, many of whom have occupied leadership positions, stated that Murphy has never shown them full financial documentation for a lodge that collected $341,335 during the 2015-16 fiscal year—and ended with a balance of $46, according to the most recent tax filings.

Although it’s not rare for nonprofits to break even, lodge members suspect impropriety as they allege Murphy and loyalists like former governor Frank Martucci signed blank checks for unspecified expenses, excluded them from the money-counting process and ignored reports that their bar was making roughly $9,000 less a month than it should have considering the amount of alcohol the bar purchased.

Lodge members also took issue with Martucci filing a six-figure lawsuit against the lodge’s insurance, while governor, after injuring himself by stepping on a wooden plank that they say he knew was loose. Martucci declined to comment.

Multiple lodge members also independently described a town hall meeting in July 2017, when Greenwalt produced a statement from the lodge’s bank account, which Murphy promptly snatched, crumpled and threw in the trash.

The former lodge members said they don’t know how the vast majority of the lodge’s money was spent, as little went to local charitable projects and none to repair a lodge that Sacramento State professor of engineering Mikael Anderson called “a total tear-down” due to his observations that parts of the foundation were uneven, rotting and infected with black mold.

To figure out the true financial state, Garcia appointed an audit committee. But before the work was completed, he was removed in July after a meeting with two regional officers from Moose International.

Current member Al Brown, a two-time former governor who served on the board for 11 years, didn’t approve of the changes that occurred under Garcia, who he felt “poorly represented” the lodge. Brown said when members came to him with complaints about Garcia, he told them to write letters to Moose International.

(For what it’s worth, in December, Folsom city officials presented Garcia with a resolution recognizing his nonprofit charity, Friends of Folsom, for orchestrating a turkey drive that delivered over 4,200 birds to families in need.)

In a more general sense, Brown called various allegations: “absolutely false,” “absolutely ridiculous” and an attempt “to blacken the name of the Moose.” In a phone call on January 19, he also vowed to sue SN&R if it went ahead with this story. “You bet your ass,” he said. While Brown offered to set up a meeting between SN&R and the current board members, he didn’t return two emails and a voice mail requesting the meeting.

When elected in May, former trustee Mike Ryan said he took over the lodge’s 50/50 raffle—in which 50 percent goes to a winner and the rest goes to a charitable cause. Members were told it was a fundraiser to repair the lodge.

After a bartender won half of the $55,000 pot, Ryan said he learned it’s against state law for an organization like the Moose Lodge to run 50/50 raffles. It’s also against state law to send proceeds outside of the state, yet Murphy proposed to send much of the remaining funds to the Illinois headquarters of Moose International, said Ryan and Greenwalt.

Still, even after Ryan raised these concerns to the lodge and the state attorney general’s office, he said the raffle started up again, under the exact same conditions. No action was taken by the state against the lodge.

On September 5, 2017, Greenwalt and Ryan said they were suspended along with much of the board of trustees. Days later, Moose International promoted Murphy to deputy supreme governor, granting him power over several lodges in Northern California.

When Murphy celebrated this at the Folsom lodge on September 17, 2017, the suspended members protested outside. Citing the protest, Moose International’s general governor Michael Leuer then permanently expelled Garcia, Greenwalt, Ryan and others from the organization.

When contacted by SN&R, Leuer wrote in an email, “The former member issues at Folsom Lodge No. 2009 have been resolved appropriately, a number of months ago. I have no desire to discuss the matters further.”

However, in the August-September issue of Moose magazine, Leuer made his stance clear in an article titled, “Financial Transparency Is Critical In Lodge Operation.” Leuer wrote that the lodge’s leadership must act against an administrator who doesn’t answer financial questions and stressed how even rumors of financial misconduct can do damage.

“This ugly situation has arisen many, many times and has in many cases caused irreparable damage to what was once a proud and productive lodge,” he wrote.

If Leuer was alluding to the Folsom lodge, he may be right. As of February 16, the lodge was down more than 100 members from its previous summer high, Mellema’s figures showed.

Miklos, for one, worries that the Moose Lodge’s questionable reputation could tarnish other local nonprofits doing good work.

“My sole singular purpose for trying to get this thing straightened out was to make sure that this lodge didn’t cloud the effectiveness of other service organizations that do such great work in this community,” the mayor said. “It’s all over this community what’s going on down there.”

That certainly hasn’t helped the lodge’s retention efforts.

“They’re all going away,” said former member Ryan, who left shortly after Greenwalt’s ouster. “You go over there some nights, it’s like a ghost town. We had to cancel things because we had no participation.”

Currently, Garcia, Greenwalt and Ryan still spend time right across the parking lot from the Moose Lodge, where, astonishingly, there’s another lodge run by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. When they look back, the Folsom lodge still looks more or less as it did during better days.

That’s also true of the moose head over the pool table.