By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
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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