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Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against United Neighbors have clarified the claims against their former employer down to one issue: unpaid wages, compensation and benefits.

Anthony Bribriesco, attorney for the Davenport agency's former director, Dr. Ida Johnson, and employees Patricia Williams, Theresa Fuller and Tonya Williams, held a news conference to articulate his clients' position Monday afternoon in Bettendorf.

In addition to filing suit against United Neighbors, the plaintiffs also have taken aim at current executive director Evelyn Nelson, whom they fault for the lead-up to their suit.

"What we're saying is she made false accusations against my clients," Bribriesco said. "She convinced the board to ask Dr. Johnson to retire early. She convinced the board to have my clients fired wrongfully, and that's what leads us to these lawsuits."

While Bribriesco represents all four clients, the claims and charges are not the same in each suit.

Johnson, who was set to retire at the end of 2016, blames Nelson for making false statements to the board, which in turn resulted in it asking Johnson to retire in September.

Nelson was hired as deputy director after Johnson announced her retirement with the intention of Johnson mentoring and preparing Nelson to lead United Neighbors.

The three other plaintiffs filed suit on the basis of unpaid wages and benefits and defamation.

Bribriesco made it a point, however, to distance the purpose of all plaintiffs' suits from the current investigation into organization's rental assistance program.

The Iowa Finance Authority stopped payments to United Neighbors after a compliance visit in late October triggered an investigation and a forensic audit of the program over the past two years.

Prior to the visit by HOME Program Analyst Rita Eble on Oct. 21, the last compliance check for the rental assistance program was completed on May 7, 2015.

"She retired early in exchange for being compensated," Bribriesco said. "It's a simple contract and promise. It has nothing to do with the rental assistance program."

As to the claims of defamation, Bribriesco said his clients would drop the charges if an apology was issued to his clients.

"We only brought that because our understanding is when they convinced the board to wrongfully fire my clients or wrongfully terminate those contracts, it was based on false accusations," Bribriesco said.

When asked about a public admission of guilt, Bribriesco said that was not necessary.

Ralph W. Heninger, attorney for Nelson and United Neighbors, issued a statement in response to the plaintiffs' news conference.

"I believe this was a one-sided, staged event to put out inappropriate information about a court matter," Heninger said. "My clients are looking forward to defending the case in a proper manner in the courthouse."

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