A court has banned a local man from the sober-living facility he founded.

Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove approved a preliminary injunction Wednesday that bars former CEO Denny Wilson and his wife, Kara Wilson, from FI Community Housing. FI’s new board of directors fired the Wilsons in late July and sued this month when they refused to leave.

Cosgrove, who is retired, presided over the matter in Summit County Common Pleas Court to avoid conflicts for sitting judges who have placed drug offenders at FI, a halfway house for men.

On the stand in the two-day hearing last week, Denny Wilson, also a recovering addict, said he would never leave the peer-to-peer counseling program he launched in 2008 or the residential service he started in 2011 — without a court order.

Already in financial trouble, FI nearly folded in 2017 when its landlord on Johnson Street sold his property in a divorce settlement. City, county, university and local nonprofit agencies rallied to find and furnish a new location at 1445 Frederick Blvd.

But financial troubles followed. FI now owes $63,000 in unpaid city and federal taxes, penalties, fees and rent.

“It remains an open question as to how this situation could have eluded Board members for so long,” Judge Cosgrove wrote in her decision. “It is without question that the former CEO Denny Wilson is a dynamic personality with the ability to inspire others. However, there is a different skill set required to be an effective manager…”

Now empty, the 14-bed facility is mired in a mess of allegations ranging from insurance fraud and self-dealing to client intimidation, false police reports and sexual harassment.

The Summit County Land Bank, which owns the Frederick Boulevard property, started a 30-day eviction last Wednesday, giving FI until Sept. 13 to come up with about $13,000 in back rent and missed property insurance payments.

The new board of directors, represented by attorney Ed Gilbert, has voted to sue the Wilsons for financial fraud and “outright theft of wages.” Summit County's Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, a primary funder for the West Akron halfway house, stopped payments on a contract with FI until the dust settles.

Pausing the second largest facility for addicted men in Summit County behind Oriana House’s Frederick Avenue Apartments has dealt a significant blow in the ongoing fight against drug addiction and overdoses.

“We’re kind of feeling the pinch based on the fact that there are people waiting for recovery housing,” said Jerry Craig, executive director of Summit County's ADM Board.

Of the roughly $750,000 in annual funding Summit County sets aside for recovery housing, more than $212,810 flows to FI, providing 44 clients last year and 43 this year with six-month stays in a safe, clean living environment with peer-to-peer counseling and free rides to get their lives back on track.

“We’re anxious to see this get resolved, one way or the other,” Craig said. While similar programs have stepped up to fill the void left by FI's lapse in service, some were already at capacity. “We’re starting internal discussions on how to serve the community moving forward."

Since first discussing unpaid tax bills and other issues at an FI board meeting in May, five members have resigned. Their names were stricken from the roster in late July by a board now led by Recarlton Buchanan, who joined in June.

Wilson’s attorney, Charles Tyler, said Buchanan “stacked” the board with friends, including a new member who serves on Buchanan’s Cadillac Boulevard Neighborhood Development Inc.

Buchanan and Gilbert say the Wilsons pocketed proceeds, cut themselves checks without board permission and left a trail of questionable activity from West Akron to Huron County, where the local ADM Board hired a consultant to audit a contract that FI canceled this year.

The internal power struggle at FI centered on a toxic business relationship between Wilson and Tiffany Edwards, a volunteer Wilson brought on board to help with fundraising. Multiple times during the court proceedings, Wilson and his attorney reminded the judge and the public that Edwards took the brunt of the blame for the now defunct East Akron Community House’s financial failings.

Reached by phone, Edwards declined to comment, other than to say she hasn't volunteered at FI "for some time." Board minutes show her active in the organization in the past month.

After consulting an attorney, Edwards said: "Denny and Kara Wilson are making false and defamatory statements about me."

Court records, testimony, board meetings minutes and internal emails in the case against the Wilsons show that board members took sides in a dispute with Edwards that quickly intensified in Buchanan's short time on the board.

It was Wilson and former board member Barbara Watkins who suggested Buchanan join the board in June, Buchanan explained in an internal email. Within a month, Wilson was calling for Buchanan to resign. That was followed by Buchanan accusing Wilson of sexually harassing Edwards — a claim Wilson denied on the witness stand.

All past board members were told, like the Wilsons, to “cease and desist” from engaging with FI or its funders.

In less than two months on the board of directors, Buchanan was elevated to chairman. At the end of July, three or four members on a board with 19 seats voted to fire the Wilsons and oust five colleagues who either resigned, according to minutes, or were forced out, according to the Wilsons.

Wilson accused Buchanan of having a “pre-existing relationship” with Edwards and a “loyalty to that relationship.” Buchanan denied having any relationship with Edwards prior to March when a West Akron councilman introduced the two.

Buchanan defended Edwards, telling Denny Wilson that the board might be culpable for any defamatory statements made against the former volunteer.

“Do not mention her name, refer to her person, likeness, current, past or future work in any way,” Buchanan wrote to Wilson. “Do not mention her time at FI unless it is to address the sacrifice of time and talent she provided to this organization.”

Buchanan said it was Wilson’s “pre-existing, longstanding, personal relationships with Board members” that prevented adequate fiscal oversight, allowing for “gross financial mismanagement.”

Since the fallout, the new board has voted to change the FI name to Breaking for Recovery Community Housing and hire Jonathan Richardson, a clinician, as the next executive director.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.