A lawsuit has been filed by eight current and former residents against Lamad Ministries/Seasons Christian Care Center.
ALBANY — Eight current and former residents of the Lamad Ministries/Seasons Christian Care Center assisted living facility have filed suit in Dougherty County Superior Court seeking damages for what they contend to be breach of contract, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and violations of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act.
Former Dougherty chief assistant district attorney Christopher S. Cohilas, now an attorney with the Watson Spence LLP law firm, filed the suit on behalf of Samuel Spivey, Euvida Spivey, Betty Odom, Helen Blackwell, the estate of Genevieve McDonald, Virginia Sanderson, JoAnn Yarborough, Sylvia Johnson and Ida Preston.
The suit contends that Seasons Christian Care and principles William C. Eidenire and Charles E. (Eric) Eidenire “mismanaged and or negligently managed income” at the center and converted funds collected from elderly residents for their own personal use.
“These disputes by my clients are not new, but I believe this is the first time there has been a comprehensive collective lawsuit filed on behalf of residents,” Cohilas said Wednesday. “The Eidenires and Seasons Christian Care have avoided prosecution over the years, partly through intimidation and threats. They actually had Mr. Spivey, an 87-year-old war veteran, arrested.
“These residents’ complaints have fallen by the wayside over the years, primarily because they’ve been threatened with eviction. That’s not going to happen here. I’m honored to represent these people; they’ve asked me to carry the football for them, and I don’t intend to stop until we get to the end zone.”
The suit, filed on Sept. 28, contends that the Eidenires and Seasons Christian Care breached contractual obligations to the defendants (and possibly other residents); subjected them to unreasonable and unjustified expenses; depleted or “otherwise diminished” ministry deposits made in good faith by the residents; breached their duties as trustees; perpetrated fraud by “willful misrepresentations of material facts and have concealed and continue to conceal material facts”; violated the RICO Act by concocting a “scheme to defraud money from elderly residents” through such racketeering activities as theft, theft by conversion, theft by deception and securities fraud.
Eric Eidenire, listed as Seasons Christian Care’s chief financial officer, said Wednesday there is no basis for the latest lawsuit.
“It’s more of the same with just a different flare,” Eidenire said. “They say (in the suit) we have developed a corrupt enterprise, but they have nothing that either proves or disproves that claim. There’s no validity to their claims; they’ve produced no documentation to support what they’re saying.
“It’s the same thing we’ve been going through with some of these residents for years. I’m not sure what our action will be at this time, but we’ll be prepared to answer the charges.”
Cohilas, who worked for seven years in the Dougherty Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office before leaving for private practice in April 2010, said the charges leveled against the Eidenires and Seasons Christian Care in the lawsuit are worthy of law enforcement attention.
“These folks have reached out to various law enforcement agencies over the years to no avail,” the attorney said. “It’s such a complicated scheme, though, I think they will be best served by going through the civil process.
“We’ll take these steps civilly, but if any law enforcement agency decides to get involved in the process we will certainly cooperate with them.”
Cohilas said his use of the word “scheme” in the lawsuit is the most accurate representation of alleged action taken by the Eidenires and Seasons Christian Care against his clients.
“We are alleging that this is a specific criminal scheme used to illegally obtain funds from elderly residents,” he said. “And they’re not just doing it on the front end, they’re doing it on the back end by unilaterally raising monthly expenses. Most of the residents are on fixed incomes, and when they can’t come up with these rising monthly fees, (the Eidenires) deduct that amount from their original ‘ministry deposits,’ sometimes down to their last nickel.
“And in the case of one of my clients — Ms. Helen Blackwell — she gave them an additional $60,000 that was supposed to be a certificate of deposit that would be used to build a chapel at Seasons Christian Care while the ministry repaid her a certain percentage of the amount every year until the maturation date. Not only has the chapel not been built, (the defendants) have previously and currently failed to meet their financial obligations in regards to this matter.”
The lawsuit also asks the court to “restrain and enjoin” the Eidenires from concealing and disposing of residents’ personal and real property (including money) by appointing a receiver with the power and authority to “take custody, control and possession of the assets” of Seasons Christian Care, to marshal and account for the assets seized, and to protect and preserve such assets pending further court orders.
“This scheme is far-reaching,” Cohilas said. “The Eidenires justified raising monthly expenses by saying they were needed to come into compliance with state regulations required of a Continuing Care Retirement Community. To date, they have not met those requirements, and we have such notification from the office of the state Insurance Commissioner.”
The plaintiffs are asking for compensatory and actual damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, the appointment of a temporary trustee at Seasons Christian Care and the granting of a jury trial.
Asked how this latest lawsuit differs from other legal action taken by Seasons Christian Care residents and if the Eidenires have not become “untouchables” under the protection of the law, Cohilas bristles.
“I wasn’t involved in any other litigation, so my involvement in this case has to do with what I’ve discovered and other historical facts that are part of the record,” he said. “It would not be appropriate for me to comment on anything that’s happened before.
“But you can rest assured that this time, there’s going to be a reckoning.”