Middletown senior center: Police investigating ‘alleged theft of monies from a local organization’

Records: Police are investigating theft related to the Middletown senior center
Published: Aug. 8, 2023 at 11:24 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2023 at 4:52 PM EDT
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MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (WXIX) - We now know more specifics about an investigation Middletown police have been conducting after the executive director of the community’s senior center was abruptly fired late last month.

Diane Rodgers was escorted out of Central Connections senior citizens center at 3907 Central Avenue in late July and told not to return, according to Police Chief David Birk.

Rodgers, he has said, is the focus of the investigation and no charges have been filed.

The board that runs the senior center terminated her employment and is fully cooperating with the investigation, the chief added.

He has declined to elaborate on specifics about the case.

However, a request from Middletown police to the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation for help in the case now reveals:

“The Middletown, Ohio Division of Police is requesting the assistance of a Forensic Accountant to assist with a financial investigation resulting from an alleged theft of monies from a local organization.”

The letter was written Friday by Middletown Police Sgt. Earl Nelson to Michael Kaizar, supervisor of BCI’s Forensic Accounting Unit in London, Ohio and copied to Courtney Beckett, BCI Forensic Accountant.

FOX19 NOW obtained a copy of it from BCI via a public record request related to the senior center.

Middletown police first asked BCI to help verbally, a BCI spokesman confirmed last week.

Now that is moving forward with a formal, written request.

“We are currently consulting with Middletown to evaluate if our involvement in the investigation is appropriate,” BCI spokesman Steve Irwin said last week when we initially inquired.

If things proceed, he said at that time, Middletown police will then send a formal request in writing to BCI for assistance.

Rodgers’ attorney, Tyrone Borger of Springboro, declined comment.

“My client and I have been informed that there is an ongoing investigation. 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.”

Middletown taxpayers pay twice for senior center?

The city of Middletown is now trying to buy the senior center from the non-profit agency that owns it, Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc. The property is valued at $2.1 million, according to Butler County property records.

If that happens, taxpayers will have paid for the facility not once but twice.

Nearly $7 million from senior services levies already have paid off the mortgage on the property once, according to City Manager Paul Lolli.

The senior center “was made possible by the taxpayers by the city of Middletown via approving levies that funded nearly $7 million dollars to pay the mortgage of that property. The levy ended Dec. 31, 2022, and the mortgage was paid off,” he said during an emergency City Council meeting last week.

However, the property has a new mortgage taken out in 2022, public records show.

Rodgers’ name is signed as the executive director for Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc. on a $450,000 mortgage taken out in July 2022 at First Financial Bank against the facility and property at 3907 Central Avenue, according to online records at the Butler County Recorder’s Office.

Her name also is signed on a mortgage modification less than six months later, on Dec. 31, 2022, for another $200,000, related records show.

What’s more, the recorder’s office also has records showing a $266,594.52 lien was placed on the senior citizen center’s property back on May 8.

William H. Roe, vice president of DER Development Co., LLC of Milford, a general contracting, property development and construction management firm, is named in a sworn statement to obtain the lien claiming that the money owed plus interest, according to documents on the Butler County Recorder Office’s website.

The senior center underwent a $900,000 renovation from June 2022 to February 2023 to transform into a recreation center for seniors.

Part of the facility also can be rented out for events such as weddings, according to its website.

Grants and the center’s general fund paid for the majority of the project, about $675,000, city records show.

Renovations wrapped up in time for a ribbon-cutting ceremony by year’s end.

City gave grant to senior center for renovations

FOX19 NOW asked the city of Middletown a week ago for copies of grants that the city gave the senior center, Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc., and/or Central Connections.

We still do not have them but on Monday, Assistant City Manager Nathan Cahall confirmed the city did provide a Community Development Block Grant to Central Connections or Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc. for the senior center renovations that were completed last year.

Middletown receives an annual allocation of funds from HUD to be used for community development activities. The grants can be used for a wide range of community development needs.

The funds have to align with any city plan that’s been put into place as well as HUD’s purpose, which is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and affordable housing.

The expected award for 2023 is $675,975, Mindy Mueller of Community Development Professionals told Middletown City Council during a March 2022 council meeting, according to meeting minutes of that session.

Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc. does business as Central Connections, according to online records at the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.

It’s not clear if the Central Connections board that hired and oversaw Rodgers as well as the senior center is aware she took out the mortgage or if she had the authority of the board and/or Middletown Area Senior Citizens to do that.

The bylaws of Middletown Area Senior Citizens are nowhere to be found, so we can’t check those.

FOX19 NOW requested comments from every single board member and their chairman.

No one has responded.

Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey said last week during a public meeting that proper background checks weren’t done when Rodgers was hired.

The mayor called that “infuriating” and “very disappointing” during an emergency public meeting last week to discuss the fate of the senior center.

She said it appeared bad decisions were made by the board that hired and oversaw her.

Rodgers, 50, of Sabina, was hired in 2021.

She came from Reno, Nevada, and also formerly lived in California, where FOX19 NOW has confirmed she was criminally charged in 2006 on multiple counts of financial crimes such as forgery by altering a check, grand theft, burglary and making or passing a fictitious check.

The Central Connections board previously said it is actively looking for an interim director to replace Rodgers.

Just before she was fired, the facility lost its contract that delivered about 3,000 meals to seniors per week.

The Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio severed ties with Central Connections over financial concerns about how meal delivery and senior transport programs were being handled.

Hot meals, chilled meals, and weekend frozen meals were driven out to seniors Monday–Friday. Weekly boxed meals also were delivered Monday–Thursday, according to the facility’s website.

About a dozen employees were laid off.

Several agencies have stepped up to make sure seniors still receive meals: Warren County Community Services, Meals on Wheels Southwest Ohio and Partners in Prime.

Garver Family Farm in Monroe is working with Council on Aging to expand the food vouchers they can honor.

They also plan to make extra deliveries of fresh produce on request as they can.

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