In Search Of Payback

By Jeff Neumeyer
By Maureen Mespell

May 20, 2011 Updated May 20, 2011 at 10:28 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- A sad trip down memory lane.

Former employees of a shuttered Fort Wayne group home operation were allowed to rummage through the abandoned headquarters Friday, looking for items of value to re-coup some of what the business cost them.

The visit stirred some raw emotions.

"It looks like a lot of the artwork is still here, at least in this area", said Mary Hunnicutt, the one-time admissions director of the Your Friends and Neighbors Group Home Chain, who toured the empty complex on Magnavox Way with former colleagues.

Ex-employees of the company spent part of the morning, making out a shopping list.

Amy Krewson/Former YFN Worker: " There are computer monitors and computers, and things like that. But I'm no judge of whether they're actually worth anything or not."

The business once employed 350 people.

But between 2006 and 2008, CEO Ernie Beal raided trust fund accounts of developmentally disabled clients being cared for.

He was convicted and sentenced to prison last spring, and with employees still owed tens of thousands in back pay, the company abruptly closed its doors last October, when the state cut off Medicaid funding because of the misconduct.

Mary Hunnicutt/Former YFN Admissions Dir.: " This is very depressing to have to come through here."

The jilted employees are in line to collect about 15 cents on the dollar of what's owed them.

Items left behind could boost their take.

Mary Hunnicutt: " There's quite a bit of stuff here, so we're hoping to make a good sale."

The walk through also revealed what the former workers did not want to see.

Some of the former workers said items in one room were thrown together in a pile, the former workers say that they included some client medical records mixed in with artwork created by the disabled clients, who called this place home.

Joan Price/Former YFN Employee: " I know exactly who made this and it is bothering to me. It is just thrown in this heap."

The clients have moved to new living quarters.

Ernie Beal is now serving out his sentence on home detention.

Beal's workers, meanwhile, are trying to pick up the pieces from a well-intentioned enterprise left in tatters.

In response to our story, attorneys for Your Friends and Neighbors had this to say:

According to Robert Gevers, attorney for Your Friends and Neighbors, Inc., representatives from the company regret now, and at the time, the need to discontinue services in October 2010. After Mr. Beal's conviction, representatives worked diligently to keep the company in business. Unfortunately, with that conviction, other consequences followed and the company fought a losing battle to maintain funding sources through the state.

Further, according to Gevers, every effort has been made since the company discontinued services to ensure the confidentiality of information pertaining to the clients the company served for many years. To the end, the company maintained a standard of care and concern for all appropriate services and confidentiality.

Upon viewing the video which accompanies the current story, YFN noted, through Gevers, that the boxes referred to and labeled with names or dates and contents are, in fact, empty boxes. The contents were shredded so as to ensure confidences; the boxes were not shredded as that shredding would have dramatically increased costs. Further, company representatives have taken great care to ensure that any former client confidential information has been carefully destroyed or stored pursuant to legal requirements.

Gevers noted that according to an agreement with creditors -- including the former employees -- the company had to vacate the premises by May 1, 2011. The building is now in the control of the lending institution who held the mortgage for the property. As may be necessary, representatives of Your Friends and Neighbors will work with the lending institution to ensure that any information left behind upon vacating the building is adequately handled.

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