Photo Credit: N.C. Department of Revenue
For 20 years, Alternative Resources of the Triad (ART) has been a fixture in Triad-area LGBT organizing, support and education. Founded in 1988 by a former executive director of Triad Health Project, ART was at one time among the largest and most effective LGBT organizations in an area encompassing three cities, several small towns and an LGBT community that is often disconnected by geography and politics.
For more than a decade the Gay and Lesbian Hotline of the Triad was operated by ART and was the organization’s primary community service. When the late 1990s brought a wave of growth in LGBT support online, ART followed the lead of other groups, moving their referral systems from phone-based operations to the internet.
In recent years, ART has also expanded its mission to include more events and activities geared toward creating social outlets for the LGBT community. The Greensboro Out at the Movies series was started in 2005 and the group recently held its second annual Triad Pride festival.
Despite their success in adapting to 21st century LGBT organizing, the organization is now falling under the shadow of alleged misdeeds by former board officer John Johnson, who was charged May 20 with embezzlement of North Carolina and Guilford County sales tax.
Hotel sale raises doubts
Rumors of potential improprieties began circulating in the community on Oct. 11, 2007, when a news article touting the sale of the downtown Biltmore Greensboro Hotel was published in The News and Record.
The questions centered on ART’s former Board President John Johnson and Fundraising Director Eric Hinson, business and life partners, who were accused of misrepresenting their involvement in the landmark, boutique hotel, which they claimed to own.
(Ed. Note: This writer served on the ART board with Johnson and Hinson. He also worked for them at the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel.)
Adding to the doubts, Johnson and Hinson — the “power couple” who controlled much of ART’s property and communications — announced they were moving to Myrtle Beach when the questions began to surface. Their Greensboro residence was in the hotel.
Johnson and Hinson routinely used the name of the hotel in their sponsorship of numerous organizations and events, including those overseen by ART. Johnson was quoted as the owner of the business in various local news publications.
The couple’s mysterious absence from the news article announcing the sale of the hotel, coupled with their move out of state, created a tidal wave of questions.
Johnson denies allegations that he misrepresented his ownership of the hotel. In an October email to friends and colleagues, which was also published as a MySpace.com bulletin through ART’s old Triad Pride profile, he rebutted any claims of wrongdoing.
“We had a personal deal with contracts and all that was created by lawyers between the Lacks [the primary hotel owners] and ourself,” Johnson wrote. “We owned 25% of the property and my personal company ran the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel.”
On May 21, concerns over Johnson’s business life came to a head when The News and Record announced that he had been charged a day earlier with one count of embezzling state sales tax and one count of embezzling Guilford County sales tax. He was extradited back to North Carolina and at press time was being held on $100,000 bond by Wake County Police.
According to arrest warrants obtained by the daily newspaper, Johnson is alleged to have aided Worth, Inc. to embezzle state and county sales tax totaling $48,584.93. The embezzlement occurred from Jan. 1, 2004 through July 31, 2007. Worth, Inc. was the company through which Johnson managed the hotel.
Concerns over Johnson’s alleged financial crimes have led to questions regarding his non-profit work. If he was dishonest in his business and personal life, were there ever any improprieties in his work with ART?
According to rumor, after they moved to Myrtle Beach, Johnson and Hinson placed a large portion of ART property in a storage facility to which they alone had access.
When Q-Notes spoke to current Board President and spokesperson Richard Gray on Oct. 19, he said the organization had full access to the storage space. Four days later, however, Gray spoke to Q-Notes again and said that the board did not have access to the property.
He said the board had been given an access code to the facility that turned out to be invalid. He added that Johnson had said he was sending keys, but the board had not yet received them.
During his first conversation with Q-Notes, Gray also claimed that the board had full access to ART’s email account. When asked if Johnson and Hinson were still members of the board, Gray said the body had “taken no action.” He later explicitly stated that they were still on the board.
On Oct. 20, Q-Notes contacted Johnson via email. Johnson said that he and Hinson were still board members, and they planned on traveling from Myrtle Beach to Greensboro for meetings and other events.
However, on Oct. 23, Gray told Q-Notes that Johnson and Hinson had been displaced from their positions on the board effective Oct. 18, one day prior to the initial interview. He also admitted that his claim that the board had access to the email account was false.
Gray said the board purposefully kept accurate information from being disclosed publicly “in the interest of protecting the assets of the organization.”
Financial records remain elusive
Also in October, Q-Notes was told by a former ART board member, who requested anonymity, that Treasurer Paul Marshall was unaware the group had $5,000 in certificates of deposit until that former board member made him aware of their existence. Marshall allegedly told the former board member that he had never seen a copy of a bank statement for the organization’s checking account.
Gray said the conversation between Marshall and the former board member “is probably correct.” It also doesn’t appear to be unique. The anonymous board member once served as treasurer. He told Q-Notes that he also never saw a bank statement. He resigned from the position out of fear of being legally liable for records he had never seen or personally verified.
Q-Notes was unable to confirm if the certificates of deposit still exist or how much money the organization has on hand. At press time, our request for a copy of the treasurer’s report from ART’s May 22 board meeting had not been met.
Instead, a written statement was received from the board on May 23 addressing concerns over possible financial improprieties caused by Johnson.
“In regard to ART’s financial status, any improprieties brought about by the actions of Mr. Johnson and/or Mr. Hinson are being reviewed by our legal counsel. If and when any impropriety is discovered and if any legal action is to be taken, ART will make that known at a later date at the advisement of our counsel.”
The statement added, “ART is financially sound, thanks in part, from grants from local organizations like Guilford Green Foundation as well as public donations. We continue to encourage people to donate to ART so we may continue to grow into becoming an even better, more visible and positive support organization for the LGBT community in the Triad.”
Despite the many questions, ART’s board members have every intention to move forward with organizational business. As the group steps into its third decade of operation, Gray said the board will continue to reach out to the LGBT community, especially in Winston-Salem.
New board members have been brought into the organization and the second annual Triad Pride was successfully held in mid-May.
The board also told Q-Notes that it is excited for its new online outreach via MySpace.com and Facebook.com and that a new website, OutTriad.org, is currently being retooled from the old OutGreensboro.com.”,”John Johnson, a former board officer of Alternative Resources of the Triad, has been charged with embezzling state and county sales taxes.