KGOU

County Commissioner Sued Over Dispute At Charity

May 4, 2018

The former director of a nonprofit charity has sued an Oklahoma County commissioner who founded the charity, accusing him and the group of failing to pay severance, berating the director publicly and making questionable deposits into a personal bank account.

Charles Elder II, who was executive director of the Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere, or SHINE, Foundation, filed the suit against the nonprofit and Commissioner Brian Maughan in Oklahoma County District Court in late April. The foundation is involved in efforts such as helping low-level offenders do community service projects that also beautify Oklahoma County neighborhoods.

Most of Elder’s accusations relate to the organization’s failure to pay him $60,000 in severance that he says he was promised and Maughan’s criticism of him in public and to others, which the lawsuit alleges was defamatory.

But the lawsuit also says that Elder was uncomfortable with how certain charity-related payments and deposits were handled according to Maughan’s instructions.

“Specifically, he (Elder) expressed his disagreement with the depositing of checks into Maughan’s personal bank account, which plaintiff understood were intended to benefit the Foundation,” the lawsuit says.

Contacted by a reporter, Maughan didn’t comment on the deposits or other details of the lawsuit, but issued a written statement dismissing it as a “nuisance lawsuit.”

“This lawsuit stems from his (Elder’s) brief time as a consultant to the SHINE Foundation, which ended when the volunteer citizen board decided to terminate his contract,” Maughan said in the statement. “I did not fire him and, in fact, I abstained from voting in that decision. I am confident that this nuisance lawsuit will be deemed unfounded.”

The SHINE Foundation was created in 2012, and Maughan touts the organization in his biography posted on the county’s website and on his campaign website, used when he ran for Oklahoma City mayor in 2017. He dropped out early to recover from injuries in a vehicle accident.

Elder, who goes by “Bud” and is former director of the Oklahoma Film Commission, says in the lawsuit that he served as executive director of the foundation from January 2015 until the spring of 2016. His primary job was to organize and promote concert fundraisers, and while he wasn’t responsible for financial activities, he was asked by Maughan to make occasional deposits and deliver payments, the lawsuit says.

“During the time of his employment, plaintiff discussed with Maughan his unease with the handling of certain payments and deposits on behalf of the Foundation,” the lawsuit states.

Elder’s lawyer, Kirk Fredrickson, said in an interview that the transactions in question involved payments for office space that the nonprofit subleased to other entities. The lawsuit doesn’t name the other entities or specify how much money was involved, but it says Elder voiced objections to Maughan allowing “unaffiliated persons” to use the office space for corporate activities.

“There were some subleases for some people who were using part of the building for their business purpose, so they paid their rent checks and my understanding is Bud learned that Brian directed that these checks be deposited into his personal account rather than the foundation account,” Frederickson said.

In March 2016, Elder contacted Maughan about his need to get paid, and Maughan became angry and used “foul and aggressive language,” the lawsuit says.

During that period, Elder was organizing an April 26 fundraising concert featuring singer B.J. Thomas at the Riverwind Casino in Norman.

At the casino, before the concert, Maughan became “loudly and obscenely critical and abusive” of Elder, berating him in front of casino staff and others, the lawsuit says. Elder “went backstage and broke down emotionally.”

Donna Jackson, then the foundation’s chief executive officer and board chairman, approached Elder after the concert and asked about a payment that could be made in exchange for his resignation, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit says the two agreed upon a $60,000 severance.

In early May 2016, Elder received a termination letter from an attorney but no severance payment.

Maughan has had different roles at the foundation. The organization’s tax return for 2016, when Elder left the group, lists Maughan as treasurer and vice chairman of the board; it raised $75,088 that year. The 2017 tax return shows that Maughan was on the board but no longer was treasurer. Maughan said in an email on Thursday that he now does not serve on the board.

Reach reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@oklahomawatch.org or (702) 418-6089.