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FOX 13 Investigates: Centerville’s fundraising for suicide prevention prompts criminal fraud investigation

Posted at 8:14 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 00:44:56-05

CENTERVILLE, Utah — The Davis County Attorney’s Office has opened a criminal investigation into the City of Centerville and its fundraising organization, the Centerville Community Foundation.

The investigation centers around the city’s efforts to raise money for suicide prevention.

Utah has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country for years. Now the initiative’s top donor has raised concerns about how the money was raised.

“People are struggling… It’s just important to me,” said donor Blaine Randall. “I knew sometimes [friends] had bad days, but I never realized how bad it was, because they were able to hide it so well. They’re gone. I miss them, and I watch what it does to their family members. They don’t really recover.”

Randall said he learned in 2019 the CCF was raising money for Mayor Clark Wilkinson’s mental health initiative, Centerville Cares. He contributed $4,000, under the impression his donation would be matched by the county and state for a total of $12,000.

“They promised me one thing to get me to donate, and that’s not what they followed through with,” Randall said. “They’re not talking. They don’t respond back to my questions.”

Centerville city manager Brant Hanson, who is also a voting member of the CCF along with Mayor Wilkinson, said he was not sure why the funds were not matched.

“[Mayor Wilkinson] represented that idea [of matching funds] in our foundation meetings,” Hanson said. “There is some concern in how it was represented to us.”

“I’m not trying to disparage Centerville Cares in any way,” Hanson continued. “What we were told is we would see matching funds… any other information, I would direct you to John Hollingshead just to represent the Community Foundation.”

Randall confirmed CCF President John Hollingshead motivated him to make the donation.

“He said that the county and the state would match dollar for dollar,” Randall said. “That’s not what appears to have happened.”

Nine months after the donation, Randall learned his money was never matched while reviewing public records, so he asked for a refund.

Hollingshead sent an email to Randall explaining the donation was “not available to be refunded” because it was “committed to a matching fund provision sponsored by Davis County and the state of Utah.”

Representatives with Davis Behavioral Health, the Davis County Health Department, and the Utah Department of Human Services all tell FOX 13 they have never promised to match funds.

Hanson confirmed the money had not yet been spent at the time of Randall’s request for a refund.

In a conversation with FOX 13, Hollingshead defended the way he obtained Randall’s donation and ultimately voted not to refund the money.

“I do not recall anyone ever telling me the reason why they did not match the funds. I was just told the funds are not going to be matched. That’s all I knew,” Hollingshead said.

“And at what point did you tell the donors that?” FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets asked.

“Why would I have to tell the donors anything?” Hollingshead responded. “They already committed the funds.”

“I would never have given them the donation if it were [not] for the matching fund provision,” Randall said. “I would have donated the money to other suicide prevention groups… They shouldn’t promote matching funds unless they have it guaranteed.”

At a public meeting, CCF directors joined Hollingshead in voting not to refund Randall’s donation.

An audio recording of that meeting reveals Hollingshead introduced the topic without explaining Randall’s concerns.

“We’ve got a person who has donated money to our fund who is, just to be brief, probably mentally imbalanced,” Hollingshead said.

Jamie Ormsby, one of the CCF directors, told FOX 13 she voted against the refund because she thought the donation had already been matched.

Nobody corrected her.

Councilman Bill Ince, another CCF director, was the only one to vote in favor of the refund.

“I think there’s information that hasn’t been put out, and I think it ought to happen in a closed meeting,” Ince said.

“I motion that we don’t return it,” Ormsby responded. “I don’t know all the information, but I still motion that we don’t!”

In a phone call with FOX 13, Ince said he could not remember what “information” he was referring to.

“I just didn’t want to have to deal with problems in the future,” Ince said. “[Randall] was not the only one that had anticipated matching and didn’t get it.”

Hanson said he was not sure if his vote would have changed if he knew the funds were not going to be matched.

“I mean, that’s a great question. That’s a great hypothetical. I don’t know if my vote would have changed,” Hanson said. “Adam, you’re bringing up valid points and things that I’ve thought about over the course of the last year. Your concerns are not unfounded.”

Ormsby said she always thought the funds were matched until notified by FOX 13.

“I 100 percent told people that it would be matched, and thought it would be matched,” Ormsby said. “So that is a huge problem. It makes a liar out of me, and I don’t like that.”

Mayor Wilkinson said, to the best of his memory, he learned there would not be matching funds in 2019, prior to the directors’ vote to not refund Randall’s donation.

“I was never pitching the match [while fundraising for CCF],” Wilkinson said. “If you told people [there would be matching funds] and they made a donation based on that fact, then yeah, it’s probably a good thing to go back and tell them. If you don’t go back and tell them because you just get busy with life and you’re not intentionally trying to hide something from someone, I understand that.”

Wilkinson explained Centerville Cares was not eligible to receive matching funds after choosing not to allocate the money toward the salary of a coalition coordinator.

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said he could not comment on his office’s criminal investigation into the matter.

“If there is actually a conviction, what is that conviction?” Hanson asked. “And how do we prevent it in the future?”

“I just don’t think they were very savvy with how they handled the money," Randall said. “Suicide — it’s a big deal. It breaks my heart that they would do that to me.”

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