Larry and Frances Jones, co-founders of Feed the Children (FTC) in Oklahoma City, Okla., have sued the owners and family of two Oklahoma City-based retail chains alleging they had a hand in ousting them from their positions at the charity.
Claiming tortuous interference, defamation and civil conspiracy, the lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Oklahoma County District Court naming David Green as a chief defendant along with his sons Mart Green and Steve Green, and grandson David Tyler Green.
David Green is the founder and owner of the Fortune 500 company Hobby Lobby, a retail chain of arts and crafts stores. Mart Green is founder of Mardel, a chain of Christian bookstores.
The Joneses are seeking a cash settlement with the hope of charting a new charitable direction, said their attorney Gary Richardson. The suit seeks “more than $75,000,” which usually means the parties are seeking in the millions of dollars.
“If we could get back Feed the Children that would be fine, but I think there is already too much water under the bridge. I think what the Joneses have in mind is to start another charity focusing on feeding children,” said Richardson during a phone interview with The NonProfit Times.
Jones alleges that after being summoned to a meeting with Mart Green in July of 2009, Green wanted to “rescue,” the charity, even though Jones believed that charity did not need any kind of saving.
“During the meeting,” said Larry Jones, “Green told me that he had ‘stuff’ on me, and that after a dinner he’d organize benefitting the organization, he would present me with a plague honoring my service, and then he wanted me to simply ride off into the sunset. I then turned to him and said, ‘sorry, I’m going to have to fight you on this’.”
Following the meeting, Jones was fired in November 2009, voted off the board in March 2010, even though his contract was slated to run through August 2011. He filed a wrongful termination suit against FTC and the two sides settled for an undisclosed sum this past January.
Jones’ wife Frances was then greeted at her office by a guard standing outside her door. FTC then moved her office moved five miles away from the main building according to Jones. She resigned from her position in December 2010, also settling with the organization out of court.
The Joneses claim that the Green family used connections and business relationships with people on the board to convince them to vote him out of their own charity.
Richardson didn’t understand the rationale for the Green’s involvement in the charity but speculated a few reasons. “Typically greed has no logic and people who have wealth are driven to get more and it’s hard to understand the reason,” he said. “That being said, Feed the Children has 52 semi-trucks, warehouses around the world and an extensive donor lists that could prove invaluable for a religious organization. Who couldn’t find that of interest?”
In a prepared statement, Bill Johnson, attorney for the Green family, believed that lawsuit is an attempt to “shakedown” down his clients and “tarnish” their reputation in the community, “The Greens will not be victimized by such shakedown tactics nor dignify the allegations with a detailed response other than to say that the charges of wrongdoing are completely false and categorically denied.”
Tony Sellars, director of communication for Feed the Children said in a prepared statement that the Green family has no association with the charity adding, “Our organization has tremendous respect for the Greens and what they have done for Oklahoma. They are outstanding corporate citizens. We hold their moral and ethical character in the highest regard.” And in terms of the lawsuit Jones brought against the Green family, Sellars would only comment, “The current operation of Feed the Children is not involved in this matter nor would it be appropriate to comment. An agreement was reached in January to end litigation with the founder and resolve our difference.”
Jones added that it was unfortunate that he couldn’t be helping those affected by floods in the south with an organization, leading Richardson to comment, “I would say the only one thing to gain out of this litigation, is the Joneses regaining their good name now that it’s been smeared.”