State joins criminal probe of Middletown senior center’s finances at request of police

Former account manager says 13 Central Connections board members ‘went to sleep.’

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

As the Ohio attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation has joined the Middletown Division of Police into the criminal investigation into the finances of Central Connections, a former account manager is questioning the actions of its board.

A letter from Middletown Police Chief David Birk was sent Friday to BCI’s forensic account unit requesting the assistance of a forensic accountant “with a financial investigation resulting from an alleged theft of monies from a local organization.”

Steve Irwin, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, confirmed the office’s involvement, stating the investigation “is active and ongoing.”

Birk told the Journal-News the investigation is concerning Central Connections, the city’s senior center. Diane Rodgers, hired as Central Connections executive director in 2021, was terminated late last month by the board for “cause,” according to Rick Fishbaugh, board president.

Kate Cleary, former account manager at Central Connections who was fired by Rodgers, said she sent an email to all the board members in October 2022 addressing her concerns regarding the center’s financial stability. She said none of the 13 board members, including Fishbaugh, responded to her email.

“It’s like all 13 went to sleep,” Cleary said. “It’s bizarre.”

Fishbaugh hasn’t returned calls from the Journal-News this week.

Meanwhile, city staff is overseeing the daily operations of Central Connections following a special City Council meeting last week when it was decided the city would possibly purchase the building and property from the Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc.

City Manager Paul Lolli said Jackie Phillips, health director, is overseeing the center in the interim.

He said Central Connections will be purchased with the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, meaning taxpayers will have paid for the building twice. The money from the sale would be used to pay off the center’s debt, though the building was paid off from a levy that generated $7 million over 10 years.

The center remains open 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday with the café open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to its Facebook page.

But Purse Bingo, a major fundraiser scheduled for Aug. 19, has been cancelled and all weekend events have been cancelled.

It’s unclear how many wedding receptions, anniversary parties and reunions were scheduled at the center and when, or if, those deposits will be refunded.

Rodgers’ contract was terminated and she was escorted by police out of the building on July 27.

Tyrone Borger, the attorney representing Rodgers, said he advised her not to comment on the situation.

“My client and I have been informed that there is an ongoing investigation,” he wrote in an email to the Journal-News. “As such, while my client would like to comment and clear up several misconceptions. She is taking my advice and refusing to comment on any allegations at this time.”

At least one developer, D.E.R. Development Co. has filed a lien against Central Connections, according to documents obtained by the Journal-News. The document says the company is owed $266,594.52, plus allowable interest.

The lien was filed on May 5, 2023, and signed by William Roe, vice president of the company.

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