Get to know the behinds the scenes of the day to day operations at the Invest In America’s Veterans Foundation. Our office staff are here for each and every Veteran that comes through our doors. No one is left behind and together we remain united.
Ralph Santillo is the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, and the founder of the Foundation and the Southwest Florida Military Museum. In his role, Mr. Santillo oversees all operations of the organization, providing thousands of Veterans and their families access to social support service programs, special post-military education and counseling services, and affordable housing.
Originally from New Jersey, Mr. Santillo served as a Field Medic, enlisting at the age of 15, in the National Guard’s 50th Armored Division. After his discharge from the military, Mr. Santillo spent the next 50 years leading numerous retail, wholesale, manufacturing, and real estate businesses. A true entrepreneur, he owned and operated two dry cleaning plants, a family operated convenience store and delicatessen, an Italian Restaurant, two retail fabric stores, a ladies sportwear clothing line, and four clothing stores.
In addition to running his business interests, Mr. Santillo has served as the Managing Partner for Real Estate Sales of Pennsylvania, the Managing Partner at Preferred Builders Showcase, and the National Training Director for Real Estate Discounters Corp., located in Cape Coral, FL. Mr. Santillo is the recipient of the Rotary Foundation’s Paul Harris Fellow Award and was appointed as an Honorable Kentucky Colonel by the mayor. He is a proud graduate of Clifton High School in New Jersey. Mr. Santillo’s goals are to rejoin Veterans from WWII, the Korean, Vietnam, Iraqi & Afghan Wars, and all other American conflicts, effectively and carefully assimilating them into society and helping them grow to their full potential. In his role leading the Foundation and Museum, he takes seriously the motto: “No one left behind.”
James Dozier is a retired Major General (USA) who currently serves as an anti-terrorism consultant to various government and private agencies, as well as a board member on various civic, political, and charitable organizations. General Dozier served in the United States Army for 35 years where he spent two tours with the Pentagon specializing in Current Operations and Resource Management, NATO in the American, European, and Asian theaters, and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in the Vietnam War, before retiring in 1985. General Dozier was kidnapped by the Italian Red Brigades terrorists in Italy in 1981 and held captive for more than 40 days, the only American flag officer to have ever been captured by a violent non-state organization. Due to his outstanding military leadership, General Dozier was awarded the Silver Star for heroism, the Purple Heart for sustained wounds in Vietnam, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and was a 3-time recipient of the Bronze Star.
In addition to his impressive military career, General Dozier was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to the Florida Commission on Veterans Affairs, served as one of Florida’s 27 Electors during the 2004 Presidential Elections, and was inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame by Governor Rick Scott for service both while on active duty and in retirement. General Dozier graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and later earned a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona. He also attended the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, and the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Cheryl Lau has served the country and her state in several impactful roles, including as General Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Nevada’s Secretary of State, and Deputy Attorney General for Nevada. She also was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress in Nevada’s second district.
Among her many affiliations, Ms. Lau served as Vice Chair of the Republican National Platform Committee, Secretary of the Republican National Convention, and Chair for the National Commission for the Renewal of American Democracy. Prior to her notable political and legal career, Ms. Lau spent 12 years as an educator before she became Nevada’s first Asian American woman to hold an elected office at the executive level.
Ms. Lau previously served on the Nevada Commission on Professional Standards in Education (2009-2013) and currently serves as the Chairman for the Nevada Commission on Ethics, a Judge Pro Tempore in the Carson City Municipal Court system. In her spare time, she manages a small business in Carson City, NV with her husband, Garth.
Ms. Lau received a Bachelor of Music Education from Indiana University, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Smith College, a Doctor of Music Arts from The University of Oregon, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) from The University of San Francisco.
Christopher Walker is an attorney with Lippes-MathiasWexler-Friedman LLP where he serves as the the Partnerin-Charge for Northeast Florida and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee. He is a recognized expert in Real Estate and Corporate Law and assists organizations across the United States with complex real estate transactions and corporate matters, including formations, contracts, governance, and sophisticated mergers and acquisitions.
Mr. Walker ‘s commercial real estate transaction work includes the successful closing of more than $750,000,000 of real estate acquisitions and financing matters, including complex and multifaceted 1031 exchanges and defeasances. Throughout his career, he has represented dozens of financial institutions across the United States in real estate secured and asset secured lending transactions.
In addition to his business activities, Mr. Walker is actively involved in the North Florida community, serving as a board member of various charitable organizations such as The Child Guidance Center and The Florida Ballet where he serves as the Vice President. He was awarded the Chairman’s Award from the Literacy New York Buffalo-Niagara, Inc. in 2013. Mr. Walker is a member of the New York, Florida, Jacksonville, and Saint John’s County Bar Associations, as well an active member of the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors. Mr. Walker received a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude) from The Washington & Jefferson College, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD, cum laude) from The Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University.
Shane Cormier is the Chief Financial Officer for Jacksonville based AutoQuotes, Inc., the industry leading software for the Foodservice Equipment and Supplies. Mr. Cormier has extensive experience with non-profit entities, most recently having served as a Contract Executive for Step Up for Students, the largest non-profit provider of Education Assistance programs to children K-12.
Mr. Cormier has over 20 years’ experience in leadership roles involving planning and directing companies and business segments as Controller, COO, and CFO with revenues ranging from $500k to $3.9 billion. He has served as COO for Team JAS, VP of Finance & Controller for Compass Consulting Group, and CFO for All Weather Contractors. He specializes in profitability improvement and organizational, accounting, and finance leadership across a diverse platform of industries.
Mr. Cormier is a current member of the Florida Institute of CPA’s and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and previously served as the Treasurer for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) and the Aviation Alliance Insurance Risk Retention Group (AAIRRG). There he served as one of the 17 founding members and helped establish the first Captive Insurance company for Aviation Repair Stations in the United States. Mr. Cormier received a Bachelor of Science in Finance from McNeese State University, a Certified Public Accountant accreditation from the University of North Florida, and a Master of Accountancy (President’s list) from The Grand Canyon University located in Phoenix, Arizona.
Nicholas Napolitano is Treasurer and a Director for the Foundation and serves as a Senior Veterans Service Officer and the Director of Veterans Services delivered from our headquarters located at the Southwest Florida Military Museum in Cape Coral, Florida. As Sr. VSO, Mr. Napolitano acts as works with numerous Veteran Service Organizations throughout the United States, is responsible for the Foundation’s VSO Training and Certification program and its Records Recovery Program.
Mr. Napolitano also serves as the Foundation’s representative to the Museum and Cape Coral properties Originally from upstate New York, Mr. Napolitano volunteered during the Korean War and served as an Airman 1st Class with the United States Air Force. After 8 years of active duty service, Mr. Napolitano flourished in the private sector as an A&R Administrator for Buddha Kama Sutra Records and spent more than 20 years as the Director of Energy Programs for the City of New York before joining the Foundation in 2010.
Mr. Napolitano previously served as the President of the Korean War Vet’s and an AMVETS Commander-in Charge. He is currently a member of The Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA), the largest and oldest national organization for men and women of Italian heritage in the United States.
Rick Wheat is the Vice President of Housing Operations and directs all operations for the Foundation’s multifamily housing portfolio, presently consisting of seven properties and over 2,100 units across five states. He is also responsible for underwriting and recommendations for all proposed property acquisitions and their long-term preservation.
As a second-generation investor, Rick has over 35 years of experience in real estate and construction, having been a licensed Broker, General Contractor, Property Manager, and a Mortgage Broker in Florida. He has served as an equity participant in over $225M in real estate and development transactions, and is a recognized expert in the HUDVASH program, a collaborative effort involving the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
Before joining the Foundation, Mr. Wheat served as the Director of Operations for Apartment Asset Advisors, the Director of Acquisitions for Just Multifamily, and the CEO & Director of Heritage Development Group where, during his tenure, was directly responsible for an estimated $200M in accumulated completed value. Mr. Wheat received his BS in Business from The University of Tennessee and a Bachelor of Technology with a minor in Real Estate from The University of North Florida.
Michelle began her own successful outsource CFO business in 2014, serving as Chief Financial Officer and consultant for several small businesses in the Jacksonville area, providing financial leadership and implementing processes and cash flow strategies to improve business performance. She has 15 years of experience in various executive level leadership roles, most recently serving as Vice President of Finance at One Call Care Management, where she was responsible for financial planning and analysis, operations, profit-and-loss leadership, and mergers and acquisitions. Her focus is on instilling the financial processes and disciplines to support the high-performance and long-range growth goals of the organization and its clients.
Michelle began her career in finance with an entrepreneurial business in the healthcare industry. Through a series of highly successful mergers and acquisitions, she held the roles of CFO, Executive Director and Vice President of Finance. Michelle holds a Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management and Systems, from The Ohio State University.