November 22, 2014

Elyria
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Ex-offender’s group gets deal with county

ELYRIA — The Lorain County Children and Families Council has signed a deal with an organization that is supposed to help youthful offenders reintegrate into society and whose CEO and founder, Eddie McNeal II, was most recently convicted of a crime in April.

The $41.67-per-hour memorandum of understanding between the council and The Re-In-Tree Association, which also refers to itself as TRITA, was approved last week by county commissioners. The contract was retroactive to May 15 and runs through June 30, 2014.

McNeal

McNeal

Council Director Melissa Stefano said Thursday that her agency has yet to call upon TRITA to perform services helping 18- to 21-year-old offenders re-enter society after being incarcerated by the Ohio Department of Youth Services.

“What he provides in the community is very unique,” she said.

Stefano said she saw McNeal speak at a conference at Lorain County Community College a few months ago and later met with him to learn more about his organization.

She said she never checked out McNeal himself but added that she doesn’t normally do a background check on the leaders of organizations she works with.

“He just said he had a board that he works with and volunteers in his organization,” Stefano said.

The website listed on the paperwork McNeal provided to Stefano identifies four board members, including Lorain attorney Zachary Simonoff. All of the board members named on the website resigned last fall.

McNeal didn’t respond to multiple phone calls and emails Thursday.

A criminal record

McNeal, 42, has a criminal record that dates back to 1992, when he was charged with aggravated robbery and felonious assault for committing a robbery at a Pizza Hut restaurant in Lorain on May 7, 1992, according to court records.

McNeal pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to prison in that case after his effort to withdraw his plea was rejected.

Following his release, McNeal’s criminal record largely consisted of traffic violations, including arrests on DUI charges in 1997, 2002 and 2008, although Elyria Municipal Court records show some of those cases were pleaded down to reduced charges.

He also was charged with criminal damaging in October 2011 after allegedly throwing a rock that damaged the windshield of a car owned by the mother of Roxanne Biagi, his ex-girlfriend who also once served TRITA as a board member and volunteer. McNeal and Biagi had been in an argument earlier that day in which she broke a window at his home, but she wasn’t charged.

McNeal allegedly threw the rock later in retaliation, but the charge in that case was later dismissed.

McNeal’s most recent arrest came in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, 2012, when Biagi called police to report he was pounding on her door — they lived next door to one another — and sending her threatening text messages.

“Ms. Biagi explained that she has had enough of Mr. McNeal using her as a punching bag and was doing as the police had advised her in the past and notify(ing) them when Mr. McNeal makes threats or refuses to leave her alone,” the police report on the November incident said.

McNeal was originally charged with menacing and telephone harassment in the case, but the harassment charge was dropped and the menacing charge was amended to persistent disorderly conduct when he pleaded no contest in April, Elyria Municipal Court records showed.

He was given a 30-day suspended jail sentence and a $250 fine. Court records indicated that $200 of that fine was suspended and the remainder forgiven after he performed five hours of community service for TRITA. He also was ordered to have no contact with Biagi for two years.

After his arrest in November, McNeal sent out an email to his supporters saying he was stepping back from TRITA, alluding to “personal issues” he needed to deal with.

“I will not burden you with the details of my current situation but I will state that in life we are thrown a great deal of turmoil and many issues arise that are not fair and from a spiteful selfishness to destroy one(‘)s good name (and to) try to inflict hardship on others,” McNeal wrote.

Re-In-Tree

When it was formed as a nonprofit organization in 2011, the goal of The Re-In-Tree Association was “to reconnect formerly incarcerated individuals back to their families and communities,” according to paperwork filed with the Ohio secretary of state.

“We will ensure adequate housing, transitional housing, and connections to community resources in terms of family and parenting skills, education, substance abuse, mental health, and employment,” the documents stated.

It was a noble goal that Simonoff, who works as a criminal defense attorney, said he fully supported when he agreed to join the board.

But he said the idea never really lived up to its potential, and he and other board members resigned in September and October.

“He wasn’t meeting our expectations, and I had other things to do,” Simonoff said.

But in his resignation letter, obtained by The Chronicle-Telegram, Simonoff wrote that he was distressed about other issues at TRITA, including concerns about how money was being handled as well as “the amount of infighting and allegations of sexual misconduct.”

“Regardless of the truth of these allegations (and I pass no judgment) I believe that the mere accusations taint our efforts,” Simonoff wrote.

Larry Deitcher, another board member who resigned last year, said he, too, had serious concerns about the direction of TRITA, although he declined to discuss specifics. His wife also had served as a board member and quit, he said.

“I resigned because of ethical issues that were going on at the time,” he said.

Both Simonoff and Deitcher said they were upset to learn that their names, photos and biographies were still on a TRITA website listing them as board members, especially since Deitcher said he took the site down in December after McNeal didn’t remove the information on his own.

Simonoff said he warned McNeal again on Thursday to remove the former board members from the site or he would take legal action to force him to comply.

Deitcher also said he wonders just how effective McNeal can be at counseling newly released offenders given his own recent troubles with the law.

“If you want to teach people not to reoffend and not catch new cases, then you shouldn’t be catching new cases and reoffending,” he said.

TRITA also now finds itself without an office.

Tim Williams, co-pastor of Greater Victories Christian Ministries in Lorain, said the church decided not to renew TRITA’s lease a few weeks ago and the group is no longer working out of Greater Victories’ Reid Avenue facility.

“We aren’t going to tie up space that’s not being productive,” Williams said.

He said he isn’t overly familiar with the inner workings of TRITA, although he was aware of both McNeal’s recent arrest and his problems with high turnover on his board. Williams said the issues facing McNeal and TRITA are unfortunate because the group could fill a vital need in the community by helping convicts reintegrate into society.

“Hopefully this bump in the road doesn’t discourage him from refocusing,” Williams said.

County work

According to McNeal’s biography on the TRITA website, his stint in prison changed him and he became determined to “thwart the stigma of being an EX-OFFENDER and lead those of his family into a lighted path where taking the right course of action at all times will lead to promising futures.”

“Eddie has dedicated his life to righting his wrongs in life and has dedicated many hours of service to his community through various organizations,” the biography said.

Among the organizations listed are the Lorain County Domestic Relations Court, Voices for Children, the Lorain County Urban League and the Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board.

Voices for Children confirmed that McNeal volunteered for the organization between 2005 and 2010. He was formally removed from the list of volunteers at the group in February for lack of involvement and outdated training.

Lorain County Auditor Craig Snodgrass’ office had paperwork showing that McNeal was paid $1,255.43 in 2011 as a contractor for the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board.

County Commissioner Ted Kalo said he attended a fundraiser for TRITA last year, but that was the only time he recalls ever meeting McNeal.

Kalo said he was unaware of McNeal’s problems when the commissioners voted on the contract last week. He said contracts typically only make it to the commissioners after they have been vetted by whatever agency will be using them, in this case the Children and Families Council.

He said the issue bears further examination.

“We’ll have to re-evaluate how we award these (memorandums of understanding),” Kalo said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.


  • NotThisGirl

    You can charm your way through life and individuals sometimes but not forever. You can’t manipulate everyone. The truth ALWAYS comes out. Reality pays the bills

  • Ray Venn

    What a bunch of morons…your tax dollars diligently being handed over to convicted criminals with YOUR Kounty Kommunistishers blessings.

  • Bob Sweatt

    Yeah sure. Let’s give money to ex-con’s. But give nothing to LCT so they can keep people in their jobs. Let’s let LCT have to lay-off a bunch of people and stop service to Cleveland.

    Yeah that sounds like a dumb plan to me.

  • kathy j mosby

    shame on you!!! so fast to judge others. look in the mirror people. if any of us are perfect then lets throw the first stone. all of us including myself has had our fair share of problems in life. we have all done our wrongs. some of you just may not of been caught. how dare you judge some one that is at least trying to do good. which does not mean he is perfect. i can personally say he has been a great help to me. always there when i needed him. with information, kind words, and a spark of hope. from just a simple heartfelt conversation with Eddie i was blessed to have the information and knowledge i needed to avoid my self another criminal situation.Eddie is a good person. who has a heart of gold inspite of his mistakes. i bet not one of you that judge him today tried to reach out to really help him. but are fast to judge him. shame on you lorain county.

    • Ihatefakepeople

      You must not really know Eddie very well do you? Ok, people make mistakes I understand that part, but at the same time we are supposed to learn from them, not continue to make bigger mistakes.

    • Michael A. Figueroa

      The defenders of criminals are usually criminals. Birds of a feather…

  • Michael A. Figueroa

    Get used to this, people. Re-entry programs are the latest fashion in corrections in states trying to cut prison costs. You can’t have it both ways: lock ‘em all up and throw away the keys and Save taxpayer money. Many of these agencies involvedin this business have ex-cons working for them, who else is going to relate to criminals but criminals?

    • jz

      Not that I totally disagree with you, but, it costs more to incarcerate someone.

  • justmyopinion

    I’m just wondering why this article is titled “Ex-offender’s group gets deal with county” when the majority of the article is spent on this man’s issues. What was the purpose of the article? To say his organization isn’t worthy of the contract? If so, that point was never stated. It seems that you spent the majority of your time exposing this man’s past, issues, etc. with no stated conclusion as to WHY. This is poor journalism, sensationalism, and just judgemental in nature. And not the first time the CT has reported in such a way. As a matter of fact, this is not even news. It’s not reported for people to be informed, it’s intention was to harm and ruin this man’s reputation. There are always two sides to every story, and although he chose not to respond, and I can understand why. There is no need to report all of these things as complete fact and truth. There is nothing postitive stated about this man, who despite his past has an Associate’s Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, and a Master’s Degree, was awarded Phi Beta Kappa and has aspirations for and has started working toward his PhD. The orgainization is new, and for two years he has made his best efforts in trying to get it off of the ground. I know of people he’s helped personally, with rent, transportation, etc with money from his own pocket as the organization does not have much funding yet. He has compassion and a genuine concern for the people who come to him for help, he just needs a little support and help with himself. Yes, I am defending him because I know him personally. I am defending his personal life by saying WE ALL ARE HUMAN AND MAKE MISTAKES and I can say he is learning a great lesson from this. I defend his work ethic as I have witnessed personally the integrity with which he runs TRITA and dealing with the frustration of not having adequate help and funding. But he makes the most sincerest efforts in doing what is best for the orgainization. So what exactly was the point of this article??? Was it supposed to be that you were looking into how contracts are given by the county? If so, it seems there was no investigation into how contracts are given by the county, etc and if that is the case that is something for the county to work on in terms of their own business interworking, it should have been kept in the county business. So really there is no need for this information to have been made public knowledge, as the article stated the county has yet to call upon the orgainization to perform services. How about someone sit down with Mr. McNeal as it does appear he is trying to offer a service that is much needed in this community. How about someone offer to mentor, help, and support him in his efforts. I would wish that anyone who rejoices in this article and has criticisms and judgements for Mr. McNeal would take a look at their own lives and hope that their own personal issues wouldn’t be broadcast unnecessarily to the public.

    • kathy j mosby

      thank you for this reply. great so see some one else knows him and has a brain and the guts to speak on his behalf.

    • I know better

      Some people can see past the smoke screen and BS he tells people. I fell for it once but not again.

  • foryourinformation

    How can someone try to help ex-offender keep straight if he can not do it himself. It is like a drug counsler tell someone to stop using and they are using themself. Also where is his current board? Does he have a licenae from the State of Ohio to do Social Work or Counseling? If not then it is breaking the law.

  • Just for your information

    Where did he get his degrees? A degree mill or brick and motar school. Any experience running a non-profit? Is everything legit like 501(c)3? He talk the talk but can not walk the walk. Very good at lip service but that is it.

    • Eddie M. Mc Neal II

      Okay People, Look Here this is Eddie, and I really do appreciate those who have defended me and those who stay in my corner on this…. If you want to read or hear some news…. I was blasted in the head with a 2×4 on my own property and life flighted to metro because I came home to a ton of teens in my home (thanks to my ex’s son)…. I walked into my home and the bathroom flooded to the point that my kitchen ceiling caved in!!! There were no arrests in this incident and I was even named the perp!!!! WTH???? Really!!! I don’t even think EPD looked into the entire story….As far as my credibility!!! I have a stack of clients that YOU (Society/Lorain County Residents) have all but dismissed and disposed of that I’ve assisted and given guidance…. The situation of my arrest was the result of a very vindictive ex who stated clearly in a vmail that EPD has on File that she was going to do everything in her power to destroy me and my precious lil org… Knowing that she couldn’t hurt me otherwise!!!! If you read the police report of that night its simply states that we argued via phone and text all day long and in that argument she told me to come to her house (next door to my home) to ensure that she was there with her and her kids and no guy…. My dumb butt fell for it and knocked on the door and her bedroom window as I have done for several months prior to!!!! it was a setup… obviously!!! I plead no contest with all of this info given to the court…and they forced her to the last hearing by stating that she had to come (she had missed all prior court hearings), or she would be found in contempt of court and even went to her home to ensure she appeared via victim advocate!!! Either way its well documented through various police reports and her prior record of physically assaulting men!!! I have had to call the police many times to negate all negative actions against myself to include the assult on my home (busting out windows) and Biting me (to the point of needing medical attn). I never felt that I had to press charges but I guess i know better now!!!! Love is a hell of thang!!!!

      No you know why i was in the paper and caught a MISDEMEANOR case!!! Since it was so news worthy I guess I shld break my silence!!! I take responsibility for all of my actions and have done everything in compliance with the court to rectify (SATISFY MY COMMUNITY OBLIGATION) again I am square with the community and this is what TRITA stands on as principle!!! WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES BUT THE THING IS TO LEARN FROM IT AND MOVE FORWARD!!! I HAVE DONE THIS AND CONTINUE TO STEP BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES THAT YOU JUDGEMENTAL AND HATEFUL NON-SINNERS AND FAULTLESS FOLKS HAVE TRANSENDED!!!