Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has filed a lawsuit against a Worthington charity and its founder, Worthington City Council member Doug Smith, for alleged misuse of charitable funds, according to a news release sent April 21.
The lawsuit was filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
"The press release from the Ohio Attorney General's Office was a shock to me and my family," Smith said in a statement Thursday, April 23. "Of foremost importance to me and my family is the fact that the public has trusted me as a community representative for more than eight years.
"The allegation that charitable funds were abused is simply not true and is hurtful. I intend to work through the court process, as this is a civil matter containing accusations, not facts. The context and truth will be made evident through this process."
Smith, a Worthington resident, incorporated Making Healthy Relationships as a nonprofit in 2012, the attorney general's office said, and the organization worked to provide health education in schools in Franklin County.
The lawsuit said MHR is not conducting programs at present, but from January 2012 through July 2016, it primarily provided abstinence education to teenagers.
"Evidence uncovered during an investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section suggests that Smith misused or misappropriated MHR’s charitable funds and assets," the release said. "From 2012 to 2017, Smith allegedly spent $135,254 in charitable funds for the benefit of himself and his wife."
According to the attorney general, some of the spending included:
• $15,150 in payments for Smith's wife’s credit card.
• $18,801 in cash withdrawals.
• $14,163 in restaurant and grocery-store purchases.
• $50,401 in unexplained or otherwise questionable expenses, including purchases at various retailers.
"Investigators determined none of that spending was in support of the charitable mission or programming of MHR, nor were the funds lawful income or compensation paid to Smith," the release said.
Most of the MHR funding came from state grants administered by the Ridge Project, according to the lawsuit.
The Ridge Project is a Christian, nonprofit organization "dedicated to empowering generational responsibility in individuals and improving the lives of families throughout the state of Ohio," according to its website. The nonprofit is based in McClure in Henry County, according to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose's website.
The lawsuit accuses Smith of overbilling the Ridge Project by $25,734.74 after presenters were hired to provide the programs in schools.
"Upon information and belief, Smith’s actions were intentional," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said Smith was entitled to receive a salary from the Ridge Project of up to $33,000 per year during the period of the grant, from January 2012 to July 2016. Smith received $108,417.62 in salary payments during this time, though he had been entitled to receive up to $151,250 in salary, the lawsuit said.
However, the lawsuit said, "even taking into account the difference between the full amount of salary Smith could have received under the grant from the Ridge Project, or $151,250, and the amount actually received, or $108,417.62, Smith still improperly expended over $90,000 of MHR’s charitable funds for personal purposes."
The lawsuit also alleges "lack of oversight" at MHR.
“Smith historically operated MHR with little to no oversight from any other purported board member,” the lawsuit said. “This lack of oversight allowed Smith to expend charitable funds for personal purposes undetected and unrestricted.”
The Worthington Division of Police had asked the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate the case, the attorney general's release said.
Worthington police Chief Robert Ware was quoted in the release: “The Worthington Division of Police has referred the investigation to BCI. Mr. Smith is a Worthington City Council member, and it is important to avoid any perceived conflict of interest.”
For the city's reaction to news of the lawsuit, Worthington spokesperson Anne Brown referred ThisWeek to the chief's comment from the release.
When asked if Smith still is able to serve in his capacity as a council member while the lawsuit is proceeding, she said: "There is nothing written in our city charter that would preclude a council member from performing their council duties during an investigation."
Brown referred all other questions to the attorney general's office.
Smith has served on council since January 2012.
In November, he was reelected in a close race that required a recount. He received one more vote than both Doug Foust and Seth Kraut in the Nov. 5 election.
Check ThisWeekNEWS.com/Worthington for updates to this story.