City pulls Fresh Start's grant
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
A $50,000 grant that was intended to go to Fresh Start Inc. will be awarded to another nonprofit agency pending a criminal investigation by the state attorney general's office, said city Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who served on the board of directors for the Waipahu structured-living facility.
"If the allegations prove false, (Fresh Start) can always apply again for another grant," Kobayashi said.
The program received a similar $50,000 grant from the city last year to provide emergency shelter services for the homeless.
This year's allocation was in the city's proposed budget, and will be transferred either to the Children's Justice Center or the Leeward YMCA, Kobayashi said.
The state attorney general's office is investigating allegations that program director Ron Barker pressured residents of the facility and their families for money to keep the parolees, probationers and pre-trial detainees in the program. In one case, detailed in Sunday's Advertiser, parolee Clifford Clark said his mother was forced to make a $20,000 payment to Barker to keep Clark in the program.
Fresh Start officials yesterday released a copy of a March 29, 2000, letter in which Clark's mother, Kathleen Clark, calls the $20,000 payment a donation, asking the program for the appropriate tax form.
In a letter to Kathleen Clark the following day, Barker wrote, "We are taking this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation for your donation of $20,000."
Kathleen Clark could not be reached for comment.
The Advertiser spoke to six other former Fresh Start members or their families who said Barker had requested large amounts of money to enter or stay in the program, and had threatened to ask probation or paroling authorities to send residents back to prison if they did not pay.
In one case, wealthy retired California businessman E.G. "Curly" Ayers said he paid $14,900 in a one-year period to keep his drug-addicted, alcoholic son in the program, essentially paying about $1,240 a month to Fresh Start.
Fresh Start officials defended their business practices and price structure in a fax to The Advertiser.
"Our enrollment fee of $1,800 and monthly fee of $1,800 has always been the same although we have worked on a sliding scale based on what they and sponsors of the clients can afford," the unsigned fax said.
Fresh Start officials have told the paroling authority it charges a $600 processing fee to cover the costs of interviewing and assessing a potential resident, and $360 monthly rent.
The fax said Fresh Start's fees are considerably lower than prices charged at "drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs on O'ahu," listing eight others and their prices, including the Salvation Army, which charges $4,350 a month.
Larry Williams, head of the Salvation Army's Addiction Treatment Services, said yesterday that his program is licensed and certified by the state Health Department, while Fresh Start is not a licensed drug or alcohol treatment facility.
"We're also accredited nationally, and with all the licensing, certification and accreditation comes a great deal of oversight," Williams said. "We're monitored and audited on a regular basis to make sure we're complying with regulatory requirements and providing a quality service with competent, qualified professionals."
Fresh Start said it recently applied for certification as a licensed drug and alcohol treatment facility.
The state Health Department is also investigating Fresh Start after a resident, William Drew Flanders III, died of a drug overdose on Christmas Eve 2001.
Meanwhile, the Hawai'i Paroling Authority has decided to allow parolees to resume enrolling in Fresh Start, because Barker has taken a leave of absence pending the outcome of the attorney general's investigation, according to Tommy Johnson, administrator of the paroling authority.
The agency had stopped allowing parolees to enter Fresh Start last month because of concerns about whether they were being treated fairly. More than 20 parolees have been allowed to remain.
Reach Jim Dooley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2447.