AMHERST, Ohio — The Lorain County Habitat for Humanity ReStore is shut down. It’s the latest development in a story News 5 Investigators have been following for six months now.
We got a tip back in November from people expressing their concerns over the nonprofit, and we’ve been asking questions ever since. Here’s what we know:
Started with citizen complaint
A citizen complaint was filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office late last year by a former volunteer. The accusations claim a leader with the Lorain County Habitat for Humanity inappropriately used money and used influence to get friends Habitat homes.
Because this person has not been charged with a crime, our News 5 policy is to not name that individual.
During our investigation, we called Habitat’s Board. It claimed it investigated these allegations and all were unfounded. However, after we pressed a bit, the Board told us there was disciplinary corrective action taken. But, that leader of Habitat was allowed to keep their job.
Leader in question ignores our inquiries
We made numerous calls and left messages for the leader in question to answer the allegations, but our efforts were continually ignored. So, we met up with that person just outside the store in Amherst. “You’re not part of the investigation, and I don’t have to answer your questions,” the person said before walking into the store, closing the door and locking it.
Sources told us the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is conducting an investigation, and the Habitat Board’s own attorney, Howard Lane, relaunched an inquiry. Lane released this statement:
“Lorain County Habitat for Humanity has been dedicated to improving access to affordable housing in the local community since 1989. We are currently undergoing a transition of leadership to ensure future growth and sustainability. During this time, the Lorain County Habitat for Humanity ReStore will be temporarily closed. Please check our website and social channels periodically for information about re-opening.”
We’ve asked for clarifications on who the affected leadership is, but Lane has not responded.
Legal expert: 'This is alarming'
“There are some things that do raise some red flags,” said former Cuyahoga County Prosecutor and now Senior Associate Eleina Thomas, with Gertsburg Licata. We showed her the allegations made against the leader in question at the Lorain County Habitat for Humanity.
“Is there enough, that as a former prosecutor, you would have said we need to delve into this further?” we asked.
“Yes, based on the information that I have received and reviewed, there is enough to look for potential criminal liability,” said Thomas.
A big reason for a deeper dive, she said, is for the people who put trust in nonprofits in general. “They’re donating money to them,” said Thomas. “They expect (nonprofits) to do right by them. And so, this is alarming. “
Habitat International said it is aware of the concerns, but it would not comment much further than that.
It’s important to note that the Lorain County Habitat for Humanity is its own entity. Think of it as a franchise. It has the same broader name of “Habitat,” but one is different than another and managed by different people. We don’t want to lump questions about Lorain's Habitat in with other Habitats that operate independently from each other.
We’ll stay on top of this and expect more details to come out soon on this breaking news investigation.