Former STAR employee files suit

Published 12:24 am Sunday, July 26, 2015

FRANKLIN FURNACE — The former deputy director of the STAR Community Justice Center earlier this month filed a wrongful termination suit against the agency’s governing board and its executive director, claiming he was fired after repeatedly calling into question alleged illegal use of funds at the center.

The plaintiff, Joshua Saunders, of Ironton, filed the lawsuit in Scioto County Common Pleas Court through the law firm Marshall and Marrow LLC, of Columbus.

According to the complaint, Saunders had worked at the center since 2009, first hired as operations director and then promoted to deputy director a few months later.

The suit alleges that on multiple occasions Saunders was told by executive director Charles Eddie Philabaun to allocate funds for inappropriate uses, including alcoholic drinks during out-of-town conferences, golf outings and personal relationships.

“Defendant Philabaun told Mr. Saunders that he wanted to give Keith Frazier (a former employee), his friend in need, $500, but he did not want to use his personal funds,” the complaint alleged.

The suit said Philabaun told Saunders to create a fake invoice for consulting services to pay his friend from state funds. When Saunders told him that was illegal, the suit alleged Philabaun said that he “could do what he wanted.”

In September 2013, the complaint said STAR sent a delegation to Reno, Nevada, for a conference in which the delegation left a day early “for a night of partying before the flight from Columbus to the conference.”

It was alleged that Philabaun ordered Saunders to create an expense report so STAR would fund the trip and secure reimbursement from state funds.

Saunders again protested, according to the suit, at which time Philabaun allegedly told him if he did not comply he would lose his job.

It was also alleged that the employees did not attend any pre-conference workshops nor did they attend any meetings.

Another portion of the complaint alleged Philabaun asked for a trip for his managers to Pittsburgh for “partying” as a reward was scheduled during an annual meeting at the Wintersville, Ohio, Community Corrections Center. The delegation took a 30-minute tour of the facility after an evening and a day of “visiting various bars and restaurants,” the complaint alleged.

The complaint also alleged Philabaun wanted STAR to pay for his golf outings, which Philabaun said could be paid for out of the commissary fund.

Another allegation was that Philabaun asked Saunders to create an budget of $60,000 for Tri-State Nurseries, owned by Philabaun’s friend, for maintenance of the new STAR facility at the former ORV.

Saunders allegedly told Philabaun that anything over $50,000 would have to be bid out, to which Philabaun told him to separate the contract into two smaller invoices.

According to the complaint, Saunders continually told Philabaun that the misappropriations of funds was illegal but feared he would lose his job if he persisted.

On April 23, 2015, Saunders was allegedly fired. When asked why, Saunders was allegedly told “he was no longer liked” at the facility and he was not “a team player,” according to the complaint.

Saunders then signed a paper stating he resigned in lieu of termination.

The suit seeks damages for wrongful termination that include reinstatement to his former position with back pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress, anguish, embarrassment and frustration, punitive damages, attorney fees and pre- and post-judgment interest exceeding $25,000.