United Neighbors Inc.

United Neighbors Inc. headquarters at 808 N. Harrison St., Davenport


Court documents from the lawsuit against United Neighbors continue to raise more questions about the agency prior to the termination of former Executive Director Ida Johnson.

A hearing for partial summary judgement in a lawsuit filed against the Davenport agency by Johnson and three other former employees is scheduled next week, but deposition transcripts and affidavits admitted into record allege more instances of wrongdoing, including excessive reimbursements, diverting food from a food bank and issuing grant funds to relatives.

Johnson and fellow plaintiffs Theresa Fuller, Patricia Williams and Tonya Williams are attempting to recover unpaid wages, compensation and benefits after they were fired in September last year.

In Tonya Williams' suit, she also has alleged a breach of her contract as an independent contractor and negligence by then-Deputy Director Evelyn Nelson and the board.

In regards to Tonya Williams assertion that she was an independent contractor, the plaintiffs have submitted an executed agreement from June 6, 2016, that outlines her duties as a consultant.

Board President Frank Berka, however, provided a copy of the bylaws that state the board authorizes the hiring of other employees, which it did not in Williams' case.

The lawsuit also includes defamation charges against Nelson for comments she made to the agency's board of directors prior to their dismissal.

In her deposition, Nelson testified that she didn't think she had told the board that any of the four members had done something wrong.

Nelson had been hired by the board in June as its deputy director with the intention of her succeeding Johnson, who was set to retire at the end of the year.

The board terminated the four employees after finding instances of money being misappropriated with regards to the agency's tenant-based rental assistance program and the miscoding of $30,000 in expenditures.

With Johnson's firing, Nelson was named executive director and sought a meeting with the Iowa Finance Authority over concerns about previous mismanagement.

Less than one month after the four employees' dismissal, the agency suspended to its rental assistance program. Further investigation by the Finance Authority led it to demand the agency to payback $235,600 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant funding in March for not following federal rules and regulations.

While United Neighbors appealed the decision, Finance Authority Communications Director Ashley Jared said attorneys for both parties are still in discussion and no decision has been made about a settlement.

The affidavits, which serve as evidence in the summary judgement ruling, include certifications to the Iowa Finance Authority from Tonya Williams that tenants were eligible for rental assistance funds when they were not.

Despite the lawsuit alleging the agency's problems resulted from mismanagement by Nelson, all certifications and approval for rent reimbursements came under Johnson's leadership.

Berka's affidavit, which included a number of supporting exhibits, also includes the results of a few recent investigations by the agency's attorney that he said show additional mismanagement of funds.

The affidavit stated that the agency was reimbursing Johnson for supplemental health insurance that had already been paid. Checks from 2015 and 2016 amount to $1,811.16.

Berka also included an exhibit he said supported the conclusion that Johnson and Patricia Williams "secured grant funds for a relative and that relative's husband to which these persons were not entitled to receive."

Following the terminations, more troubles followed United Neighbors.

Berka said, on Sept. 26, 2016, United Neighbors' office was vandalized and some records were either destroyed or removed, including an entire filing cabinet.

The following day during its board meeting, inventory of its food pantry room led to more allegations of impropriety.

Because the pantry contained food that was spoiled and more than two years old, Berka wrote that "Johnson, assisted by the other plaintiffs, had been picking up substantial quantities of food from several food banks each month, indicative that donated food to support UNI's charitable purposes was being diverted from UNI for private use."

Subsequently, Berka wrote that food bank list was found in Patricia Williams' office in addition to a large meat order dated Sept. 22, yet no meat was in the agency's inventory.

Also missing from United Neighbor's offices were computers donated by Deere & Co.

A message to Scott County Attorney Mike Walton asking whether there is an investigation into these allegations has not been returned.

"The agency and board of directors were grateful for Ida's service and dedication to the organization over the past years, but as new board members were appointed, it became clear that the line between agency property and personal property had become blurred," Berka said in a Monday interview with the Quad-City Times. "The agency saw necessary to separate itself from the former director and her relatives and close friends. It is unfortunate that this has become such a public battle because this agency has unsuccessfully attempted to protect the reputation of Dr. Johnson in the community despite the harm that her action have caused for the agency."

Anthony Bribriesco, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said while he was awaiting additional documentation from United Neighbors, he was confident in the merits of the case.

"We've asked them to turn over certain documents and we're still waiting on that," Bribriesco said. "We're moving forward and we're confident that as more information comes forward, it will restore the reputation of Ida Johnson and my clients. What's important is what Evelyn Nelson testified under oath and that she said she never accused Ida or any of my clients of wrongdoing."

A hearing on the partial summary judgement is scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Scott County Courthouse.