Agape Ministries disputes allegations in food pantry dispute

CENTER HARBOR — The president of Agape Ministries of Ossipee is disputing allegations contained in a court document relating to the Center Harbor Food Pantry.
Kevin Straughan, who also serves as executive director of Agape, said the Attorney General’s Office never verified the report by a single individual who called police, claiming Agape was removing items from the basement of the Center Harbor Christian Church.
Attorney Thomas Donovan, who is handling the case for the Charitable Trusts Unit, confirmed that the state did not have access to the police records relating to the allegation.
“The report we had that Moultonborough police were called at some point about Agape attempting to remove some items from the food pantry was based on what we’d been told,” Donovan said. “It’s for the court to resolve those factual details.”
Moultonborough police were not immediately able to shed light on the matter because Detective Peter John, who responded to the July 6 call for service, was not on duty Monday.
Sgt. Jason Boucher said the incident report shows a call for service to which John, along with Fire Chief David Bengtson and Health Officer Donald Cahoon, responded.
“The complaint was made, but the information doesn’t say if they did or didn’t remove anything,” Boucher said.
The claim was among 18 allegations included in the case file regarding the disputed leadership of the Center Harbor Food Pantry.
“We’ve been concerned about the food pantry not getting shut down until this matter is resolved,” said Donovan, “and among the things that concerned us was the current management receiving a letter asking them to leave.”
That letter came from Robert P. Farah, Gordon M. Swan, and Pamela Vaughn, the purported directors of the food pantry. The court case revolves around who legally oversees the food pantry, with Roger Woodman, Edward Andrews, Gail Hewitt, Kathleen Faro, and Melissa Fazzina also claiming to be the directors of the non-profit organization.
Straughan said he is concerned because the allegations against Agape have tarnished the reputation of the non-profit organization, which has been operating in the Ossipee area for 18 years.
“Now I face repercussions from a public document accusing us of stealing,” Straughan said. “We have been here 18 years in public service with a record that is spotless.”
Agape Ministries operates a food pantry in Ossipee and expressed an interest in purchasing the church that houses the Center Harbor Food Pantry in May.
Farah, who had served as the church’s pastor as well as a director of the food pantry, had retired in October 2016, leaving volunteers to run the pantry in his absence. Straughan said that, in looking over the financial records, the volunteers concluded that Farah and his wife had embezzled $300,000 from the food pantry. In response, they closed the bank account and opened a new one, and filed with the Secretary of State’s Office as the new directors.
The claim was plausible because Farah’s family was associated with the Meredith-based Financial Resources Mortgage, Inc., which through a Ponzi scheme defrauded investors out of millions of dollars.
Straughan, however, said — and Donovan confirmed — that the Charitable Trusts Unit concluded that Farah had simply misidentified in-kind donations to the food pantry as cash donations when filling out the nonprofit tax forms.
“One of the issues relates to the form about in-kind donations,” Donovan said, “but that’s not central to the concerns we have. From the beginning of the Center Harbor Food Pantry, we haven’t seen a good trail as to who really was the director at any one time.”
While there are questions as to whether the “new” board had been formally appointed to succeed the original governing board, Straughan said Farah clearly maintains ownership of the church, with the food pantry renting its space in the basement. Agape has been dealing with Farah in its quest to purchase the church but, in looking over the property, Straughan said he found no running water, toilets that do not work, and squatters living in a building that had no heat downstairs.
“We felt bad for the food pantry, with no kitchen or bathroom facilities,” Straughan said. “We volunteered to bring in a porta-potty ... and we’ve been paying for that.”
He said Agape decided to clean the kitchen and found moldy pots and pans with caked-on food, and decided to replace them. As they were about to haul out two garbage bags of cookware, one of the squatters told them not to remove anything, so they returned the items to the kitchen, Straughan said.
In July, Straughan said, they returned with the health officer and fire chief to inspect the building, and that is when the police were called in.
“We met them upstairs,” Straughan said, “and when they told us they had a report of someone trying to steal from the building, we said we’re just looking at the property with two town officials. They said they’d had a call, so had to come.
“It baffles me why anyone wouldn’t check with the police before publicly accusing us of something,” Straughan said. “We want to take over the food pantry and got into this mess.”
Because of its interest in purchasing the property, Agape is now part of the court-ordered mediation.
“We’ve invited them to the attend the mediation, even though they are not a party to the lawsuit,” Donovan said. “We’re happy they’re willing to participate.”
The two central parties are to choose a mediator to settle the question of which one has authority to oversee the food pantry. The recommendation also may set up the means to choose a successor board.

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Belmont police seek information about whoever fired a gun near a home


BELMONT — Police are hoping someone will come forward with a tip that will help them identify the person who discharged a firearm in the middle of a neighborhood on the night of Sunday, Sept. 3.

Lt. Richard Mann said the incident occurred at 11 p.m. on Sept. 3, on Cycle Lane, a densely settled neighborhood of manufactured homes. A person who lived in one of the homes heard the sound of a gun firing, and when the resident got to the window to investigate, could only see a vehicle driving away.

Investigating officers found a shell casing on the ground between the roadway and a window of the residence. Mann said the casing was from a round for a semi-automatic handgun. He noted that the shot disturbed many of the neighboring residents.

"The fact that someone last Sunday, around 11 p.m., recklessly discharged a firearm, directly in front of a bedroom window into the ground is being taken very seriously," said Mann. Firing a weapon, even into the ground, that near a home would qualify for the felony-level charge of reckless conduct with a firearm, he said, noting that if the round had struck something hard in the ground, such as a large rock, it could have redirected and struck the home.

Mann is hoping that someone from the public will hear who the offending party is, and will relay that information to police. Anyone with information should call 267-8350, and Mann noted that callers may ask to remain anonymous.

"Somebody is going to tell someone that they did this, we're hoping someone calls and tells us," said Mann.

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Laconia polls to be open 7 to 7, just like Belmont

Special election hours have been extended after questions about shorter voting time in city


LACONIA — Voting hours for Tuesday’s City Council primaries and a state representative race have been extended, City Manager Scott Myers said Monday.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Laconia, matching the voting time in Belmont, which is also participating in the representative race pitting Democrat Charlie St. Clair against Republican Steven Whalley.

Laconia officials had earlier planned an 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. voting day, even though New Hampshire law for state elections requires that polls stay open at least until 7 p.m.

Myers said it is still unclear whether Tuesday’s election for state representative is considered a state election under the law since this is a special election requested by the Laconia City Council to select a successor to Republican Rep. Robert Fisher, who resigned in a scandal over his creation of a website critical of women.

However, after a reporter raised questions about the voting times Friday, and further questions were raised over the weekend, it was decided to extend the voting time.

“It is unclear in the State RSA’s as to whether or not the Special Election qualifies as a State Election and therefore would require polls to be open until at least 7:00 p.m.,” Myers said in an email Monday. “After conferring with the Secretary of State’s office this morning, and their communication with the Attorney General’s office, it was recommended that Laconia adjust their polling hours to 7:00-7:00 in order to provide voters with every opportunity to partake in the election process and to greatly reduce the possibility of a legal challenge.”

In addition to the state representative race, Laconia voters in Wards 1, 2 and 4 will also be deciding primary election races for city councilors. The top two finishers in each of those races will advance to the Nov. 7 general election.

Polling places

In Belmont, voters in the last general election cast their ballots at the Belmont High School gym, but for Tuesday's election, voting will be at the Belmont Corner Meeting House, 16 Sargent St.

In Laconia, the voting will be held at:

Ward 1 – The Beane Conference Center, 35 Blueberry Lane.

Ward 2 – St. Andre Bessette Parish Hall, 12 Gilford Ave.

Ward 3 – Laconia Middle School, 150 McGrath St.

Ward 4 – New Covenant Christian Church, 31 Lindsay Court.

Ward 5 – Woodland Heights Elementary School, 225 Winter St.

Ward 6 – Leavitt Park Clubhouse, 334 Elm St.

Races and candidates

Special election for state representative for Belknap County District 9:

Charlie St. Claire, Democratic

Steven Whalley, Republican

Laconia City Council primary election races

Ward 1: Bruce Cheney, Michael Foote and Susan Hodgkins

Ward 2: David Bownes (incumbent), Leonard Miner and Richard Beaudoin

Ward 4: Brenda Baer (incumbent), Mark Haynes and Breanna Henderson

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