Editor's note: The original version of this story mentioned a traffic offense against Jay Richardson but specified the wrong reason from the Ohio Revised Code.
Not only has COF Academy been winless on the football field, but the founders of the fledgling school might be facing fourth-and-long.
As of Sept. 21, Christians of Faith Academy no longer is considered a school and no longer will count for points to qualify for the state playoffs, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
The Ironmen have had at least one game canceled: Sept. 22 against Lakewood St. Edward. The team lost 35-14 on Sept. 28 to Detroit Catholic Central and is scheduled to play Oct. 5 against Brother Rice of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Athletics department officials at Brother Rice said the game still was on.
Off the field, court documents and interviews with business owners and a former coach reveal a pattern of debts allegedly left behind by those who founded COF Academy and are accused of using a church’s name to solicit donations and sell insurance.
Where the school goes from here seems to be anybody’s guess.
The school unveiled itself over the summer on social media and elsewhere with an impressive high school football schedule that included such Ohio powers as Huber Heights Wayne, Cleveland St. Ignatius and St. Edward and such out-of-state programs as North Allegheny in Wexford, Pennsylvania, and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
COF Academy was formed as a noncharter school not supported by taxes through the Ohio Department of Education. School leaders claimed they would have about 400 students taking online classes organized by a Minnesota-based education company, Edmentum.
OHSAA officials believe COF Academy never has held classes, according to spokesman Tim Stried.
In addition, documents sent to the Ohio Department of Education, prospective students and ThisWeek reveal dozens of references to being funded and backed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in association with the Richard Allen Group, which was referred to as the financial arm of the AME Church.
Roy Johnson is listed as owner of the Richard Allen Group on the state’s business directory.
In a statement on its website, the Third Episcopal District of the AME Church denies “any affiliation” with COF Academy or the Richard Allen Group, and it accuses COF Academy of “seeking donations” and contacting people about “life insurance” under the AME Church’s name.
The two men in charge of COF Academy are Johnson, whose full name is Leroy Johnson Jr., and Jay Richardson, whose full name is James E. Richardson IV, according to documents submitted to the ODE, the OHSAA, parents of prospective students and Johnson himself.
This summer, Johnson presented himself to ThisWeek as the leader, face and spokesman for COF Academy. ODE documents show that Johnson communicated with the department to ensure the school’s certification.
Johnson has not responded to ThisWeek’s phone calls or messages since August. Business owners and a former COF Academy coach told ThisWeek Johnson has turned off his phone.
Richardson was an Ohio State University defensive lineman from 2002 to 2006 and he played several seasons in the NFL.
He is a regular analyst on “The Football Fever,” an Ohio State football program broadcast on WSYX-TV in Columbus. He also co-founded the Jay Richardson Foundation, a nonprofit organization that “focuses on the long-term success of our adolescent youth,” according to its website.
Richardson is listed as the “superintendent” of COF Academy on documents submitted to the ODE.
He did not return multiple calls and voicemails left on his cellphone seeking comment for this story.
Johnson and Richardson’s relationship seems to go back at least a decade.
Metro New York, a free daily newspaper in New York City, published a story referencing the pair in June 2012, not long after Richardson was signed by the New York Jets as a free agent. The story, titled “Richardson hopes to broker future with Jets,” details Richardson’s plans to sell insurance as an “entrepreneur.”
“In 2007, Richardson, along with partners Roy Johnson and Sean Morrow, went from commodities trading to a focus on insurance ‘where we saw the potential to make real money,’ ” the story said.
The two men also are linked in a legal case.
According to court documents, the Richard Allen Group borrowed $92,020 from Heartland Bank in Dublin on Feb. 15, 2018. Richardson’s signature is on the loan document, which promises to pay back the funds and states that payments would begin March 15, 2018.
Stried said Johnson first contacted the association about the COF Academy football team that same month.
On Aug. 30, 2018, Heartland Bank submitted a civil lawsuit through the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. It alleged the Richard Allen Group had “failed to make all payments” on the loan and asserted that the bank was owed $90,449.10.
Johnson is listed as the defendant on the case.
Heartland Bank attorneys requested that Johnson and Richardson both be present at a September hearing in the case.
Judge Jenifer French ruled Sept. 5 that the Richard Allen Group owed $90,449.10 to Heartland Bank.
As Johnson and Richardson were dealing with multiple issues in the Franklin County courts, COF Academy allegedly was failing to pay some employees and for services.
Former Ohio State receiver Jeff Greene, who played for the Buckeyes in 2014 and 2015, served briefly as a coach for COF Academy. On Aug. 6, at the only practice ThisWeek was invited to, Greene was coaching a group of receivers and defensive backs.
Greene said Johnson and head coach Paul Williams reached out to him in the summer about coaching the team. He said it “seemed like a great idea and a great opportunity.”
A few days into coaching, he said, he was still unsure about his contract situation.
“They just kept saying they’d get back to me,” he said.
After coaching without pay for “two or three weeks,” Greene said, he felt like “something wasn’t right,” especially when he discovered the school had only about 30 students and many had already graduated from another high school.
“After a while, I just said, ‘I’m just going to do something else,’” he said.
Greene has left the program. He said “no one knows what’s going on” and he and others owed money by Johnson can’t reach him. He said he was as surprised by the news that AME Church was not involved at all.
Greene said he has been trying to check on the students, whom he said he’s worried about. But he hasn’t been able to get many answers.
“We don’t know where the money is coming from or who’s funding (COF),” he said. “Everything seemed believable; I just wanted to stick around and wait until I got paid.”
In early September, Johnson and COF Academy students went to play paintball at LVL UP Sports Paintball Park in Grove City.
Owner Dave Pando said Johnson called him on a Thursday morning asking to set up paintball for the large group. LVL UP isn’t open on Thursdays, but Pando said he had seen the request as a huge opportunity for his new business. He told them to come in at noon and he’d have it ready.
“We’re the new guys,” Pando said. “So we were like ‘Yeah, of course we’ll host you,’ and I gave them a big discount and everything. I called in a bunch of staff because we’re not usually open.”
Pando said the group played for four hours in one of his best events yet.
“It was awesome,” he said. “They had a ton of fun. It was around 40 kids and they hung out for four hours or so and shot thousands of paintballs. We did our job, which is to make sure kids have fun.”
But when it came time to pay the bill of more than $1,000, Pando said, Johnson told him “the person who was supposed to pay” would be coming in later in the day to square their bill. He said a credit card was left on file.
When the day ended and no one else arrived to pay for the 20,000 paintballs and four hours of staffing, Pando said he ran the card. He said the card was “either fake or not working” and couldn’t be charged. He called Johnson, but didn’t hear back for days.
Eventually, he said, he spoke to Johnson, who gave him a “pity party story” about a lack of funds.
Pando said as of Oct. 1 he has not been paid by Johnson or anyone else at COF Academy.
“We went out of our way to host a really awesome paintball day for them ... and we’re happy to do that for anybody,” he said. "We’re a small business. We’re a startup. That’s why we went above and beyond and gave them a discount. To us, that was a gift. A random 40-person group and $1,000? That’s a lot for us.”
Jim Waters said he had a similar experience.
Waters is the CEO and owner of SuperKick Columbus, an indoor training facility in Lewis Center. COF Academy held multiple practice sessions there between July and early September, including an Aug. 5 media day at which ThisWeek was present.
According to Waters, as of Oct. 1, COF Academy has an outstanding bill of $7,720. He said his organization was “guilty of not following our usual processes” because of the pitch by Johnson and a “long line of correspondence” that Waters called lies.
“A consistent theme about this is that Roy is very convincing with the purpose of the school and the story and all of that,” he said.
Waters said he spent weeks trying to contact Johnson, who made excuses and told him many times that he would pay the debt in full.
According to Waters, he and SuperKick have “initiated a formal, legal collections process” to collect the money.
“They took advantage of our goodwill under the guise of charity,” he said.