Husband of terminated senior center director charged with 7 counts passing bad checks

Vincent ‘Scott’ Smith allegedly wrote checks totaling $56,300 that were returned by bank.

MIDDLETOWN — While Diane Rodgers, former executive director of Central Connections, a senior citizens center in Middletown, hasn’t been charged with any crimes, her husband is sitting in the Middletown City Jail.

Vincent “Scott” Smith has been charged with seven counts of passing bad checks, all felonies, according to the Middletown Division of Police and court records.

Smith, 56, was booked Monday night into the jail after police served warrants at his home on Sabina Road in Sabina, according to Sgt. Earl Nelson. He is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Middletown Municipal Court.

Rodgers hasn’t been seen publicly since she was terminated by the Central Connections board of directors on July 27 and escorted out of the building by Middletown police. Nelson said she was not present at the Sabina home.

According to the court complaint filed by Middletown Detective Patrick Glassburn, Smith’s charges stem from the fraud investigation “at Central Connections with the executive director.”

Smith allegedly wrote a series of checks that totaled $56,300 between June 1, 2022 and June 23, 2023 from his bank to Central Connections and the checks were returned for insufficient funds, according to the court document.

“Smith wrote on 6/01/2022 a check in the amount of $6,500, on 4/17/2023 two separate checks in the amounts of $7,000 each, on 04/16/2023 two checks in the amount of $14,000 and $4,000, on 6/05/2023 a check in the amount of $2,800 and on 6/23/2023 in the amount of $15,000,” according to the detective.

It appears Smith allegedly was attempting to return money taken from the Central Connections account, Nelson said.

Rodgers was fired “for cause,” according to Rick Fishbaugh, board president. He said the board performed a background check on Rodgers, but only in Ohio, where she never worked or lived. He said that was “a mistake.”

Middletown investigation

Rodgers is under investigation by Middletown detectives and the Ohio Bureau Criminal Investigations regarding finances at the center, according to police Chief David Birk. No criminal charges have been filed and the investigation is ongoing, he said.

She was hired in November 2021 and then spearheaded a $1.5 million renovation of the center, 3907 Central Ave., that included an event center, full bar, café, furnishings and decorations. She said the improvements were needed to attract outside business to the center and fund activities.

While Rodgers said membership rose under her leadership, Central Connections is buried by its financial burden. The Council on Aging cancelled its contract with the center that no longer provides meals or social services to seniors.

The city of Middletown is considering leasing the building for $50 a month the last four months of the year.

After that, the city may purchase the property from Middletown Area Senior Citizens Inc., a non-profit, for $1.8 million, said City Manage Paul Lolli. That money will help pay off debt at the center, he said.

The city must exercise the option to purchase before Dec. 31, 2023, according to the lease agreement. Law Director Ben Yoder said the building and property have been appraised at $2.5 million.

Lolli said it will cost the city about $10,000 a month to operate the center: $5,000 in insurance and $5,000 in utilities. He said two staff members, Health Director Jackie Phillips, and Jeri Lewis, community projects coordinator, are operating the center in the interim. They have recruited 10 volunteers to assist in running the center and the city is performing background checks on them, Lolli said.

So the city could spend more than $40,000 the rest of the year to keep the center open and provide “mission critical services,” according to Lolli, who said about 100 seniors are using the facility daily.

Lolli said if the city didn’t lease the building, it would close immediately.

If the city purchases Central Connections with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, Lolli said the 13 board members have indicated they want to resign.

The goal is for another agency to operate the center, hopefully sometime in 2024, Lolli said. He said the city will take precautions to reduce the risk of the financial struggles repeating.

Central Connections: Timeline

Nov. 6, 2012: Middletown taxpayers pass a five-year, 1-mill levy to provide or maintain senior services at the Middletown Area Senior Center.

Aug. 16, 2015: The name of the Middletown Area Senior Center is changed to Central Connections.

May 2, 2017: Middletown taxpayers renew a five-year, 1-mill levy to provide or maintain senior services at the center.

November 2021: Diane Rodgers is hired as executive director. She says she moved from Reno, Nev., where she oversaw a senior center and worked with the homeless population, to be closer to her daughter who lives in New York.

July 29, 2022: Rodgers signs for a mortgage loan through First Financial Bank for $450,000, then does a loan modification that increases the amount to $650,000, according to the Butler County Recorder’s Office. Her signature and job title are listed on the loan that matures on July 29, 2024.

Nov. 1, 2022: Ribbon-cutting is held to celebrate the $1.5 million in renovations of Central Connections, 3907 Central Ave.

Dec. 31, 2022: Senior citizens center levy expires after generating $7 million over 10 years.

May 5, 2023: D.E.R. Development Co. files a lien against Central Connections, saying the company is owed $266,594.52, plus allowable interest.

May 31, 2023: Rodgers files vandalism report at Central Connections. Middletown police say that leads to the investigation of center’s finances.

July 24, 2023: The Council on Aging terminates its three-year contract with Central Connections. Fifty employees are laid off.

July 25, 2023: Nearly 75 senior citizens and former and current employees of Central Connections attend a meeting in the café with Rick Fishbaugh, board president, and Rodgers.

July 27, 2023: Rodgers is terminated as executive director of Central Connections and escorted out of the building by Middletown police.

Aug. 3, 2023: During a special City Council meeting and after an executive session, City Manager Paul Lolli announces council has agreed to move forward with the possible purchase of the Central Connections building and land and for an unknown amount that will come out of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund.

Aug. 5, 2023: In an email to the Journal-News, attorney Tyrone Borger, who is representing Rodgers, writes that he and his client have been “informed that there is an ongoing investigation. As such, while my client would like to comment and clear up several misconceptions. She is taking my advice and refusing to comment on any allegations at this time.”

Aug. 9, 2023: Middletown Police Chief David Birk says his department is working with the Ohio attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation into the criminal investigation into the finances of Central Connections.

Aug. 11, 2023: Central Connections announces more layoff and the closing of the cafe and bar. The hours are reduced to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Aug. 15, 2023: City Council votes unanimously to allow City Manager Paul Lolli to enter into a lease agreement with Central Connections. The lease is $50 per month. By the end of 2023, the city has the right to purchase the building and property for $1.8 million.

Aug. 21, 2023: Vincent “Scott” Smith, husband of the former executive director, arrested and charged with seven counts of passing bad checks, all felonies.

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