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State revokes Greensboro substance abuse agency's license

GREENSBORO — The state has revoked the license of a substance abuse treatment agency here, saying it exploited clients recruited from jails, homeless shelters and other places to stay in substandard housing while providing substance abuse services.

Ready4Change Inc., at 5 Centerview Drive, targeted people who “were receiving a government insurance plan” for its treatment programs and collected insurance payments for its income.

The state Department of Health and Human Services revoked the agency’s license to operate a treatment center, barred it from accepting new clients and fined it $6,000 for “serious exploitation.”

According to a 45-page report obtained Tuesday by the News & Record, the department’s Division of Health Service Regulation outlines an elaborate system designed to keep clients who otherwise wouldn’t have a place to live tied to its apartments. Ready4Change used a system of counseling session attendance rules, curfews and fines to keep clients intimidated and obligated to its substandard and sometimes crowded apartments, according to the report.

The report says that Ready4Change had a “transitional housing coordinator” who managed housing for the program and “solicited the clients from jails, homeless shelters and various other places to receive substance abuse services and in turn the clients would be provided housing in substandard apartments in a complex overseen by the (agency’s corporate compliance officer).”

The state sent three letters to Christal Smith, who it names as the licensee and CEO of Ready4Change Inc. She is listed in records from the N.C. Secretary of State’s office as the registered agent for the agency. One letter says the state is revoking the agency’s license, one says it is barring the group from accepting new clients and the third assesses the administrative fine.

The redacted report does not name any clients or employees of Ready4Change but details an agency brimming with violations of state standards, money-making schemes and incompetent treatment methods.

Tim Vincent, a co-founder of the agency, said in an email that Ready4Change “disagrees with (the Division of Health Service Regulation’s) findings, and we are appealing the penalties.

“We take these accusations of penalties very seriously, but they are only that — accusations,” Vincent wrote. “We have the right to be heard in Court to dispute the findings.”

The agency’s letter revoking Ready4Change’s license says that the agency has 10 days from Sept. 4 to submit a written “Plan of Correction” suggesting how it will rectify any alleged violations.

Ready4Change can appeal the fine within 30 days to the state Office of Administrative Hearings.

Although Vincent has in the past denied it, the report says that company officials ran the housing scheme from Ready4Change despite attempts to make it appear that the housing operation was not related to the treatment center.

“The Licensee (Smith) was aware of the transitional housing but maintained that it was separate from the treatment program,” the report says. “Client and staff interviews however, supported that she had knowledge of the housing being contingent upon attending treatment.”

Vincent was not named directly in the report but former clients have told the News & Record that he was directly involved in the housing program and recently told a group of clients that they must leave their apartments that it was providing at the Grandview Pointe Apartments at 3128 Utah Place in Greensboro.

Groups of former clients are now living at the Red Roof Inn on Meadowview Road after they were forced out of Grandview Aug. 30.

Kimberly McLellan, whose son Eddie was a client in the program, now lives at the Red Roof Inn along with more than 20 people in rooms that are being paid for by the city of Greensboro’s Neighborhood Development Department. Brett Byerly, executive director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition, said the city has been helping since they were displaced.

McLellan remembers the day in mid-August when Vincent held a meeting with clients of Ready4Change at Grandview.

“Tim had the meeting with everybody and told them they had to get out of the housing,” she said. “I wish I could’ve recorded him at that meeting.”

Phylesha Edmond was not at the meeting, her former fiancee was there. But Edmond, who now lives at the Red Roof Inn with her two teenage sons and former fiancee, said she confronted Vincent about the situation.

“I told him y’all had to know way more than 13 days before. He bent his head down and shook it. He doesn’t like to talk about the housing situation,” she said. “He doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. But he’s the one who told us we had to get out.”

Edmond and others said on Aug. 30 people representing Ready4Change appeared at the apartments and woke up the tenants before taking away their beds and other furniture. Some people who refused to leave have had their power cut off, former clients said.

The state report says that many clients were asked to pay $200 a month rent. Edmond said she paid a portion along with her former fiancee until she ran out of money.

The DHHS report says Ready4Change leased 12 apartments for its programs.

Investigators interviewed 13 current and former clients and found that the apartments were crowded and infested with bedbugs and roaches. They also found water and power were often disconnected and air conditioning was not working in some apartments. Men and women that were unfamiliar with each other were placed in the same apartment with no locks on their bedroom doors and clients lost belongings because they were not provided with keys to lock their apartments, investigators found.

The report also said doors were required to be locked from the inside at curfew at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends; no one was allowed to go in or out of the apartments after curfew.

“Clients were being informed they had to immediately leave housing and substance abuse treatment and not return if they complained about the housing conditions,” the report said.

The report also details an agency that fell short in its duties of treating substance abuse.

The state said Ready4Change was licensed to provide a “Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Program, Substance Abuse Comprehensive Outpatient Treatment and Psychosocial Rehabilitation.”

Ready4Change employed personnel who were not properly trained to do some of their duties, the report says.

In addition, the report says, Smith worked to make it appear that clients who missed sessions were attending regularly.

“She instructed staff not to cross client names off the group therapy attendance sheet because the program billed for clients that attended regardless of how long they were present in group. The Licensee (Smith) requested a former staff (member to) document that she had provided therapy for a client that she had not interacted with on that day,” the report says.

An interview with one former staffer showed that the agency was providing services it wasn’t licensed to offer. They included outpatient therapy and driving while impaired assessments and services.

Ready4Change contracted with an office with a psychologist who provided counseling for families and children not attending the substance abuse sessions, the report says. It also says the agency provided office space for a phlebotomist who worked for an independent firm who collected urine and blood samples.

The report says that in an Aug. 15 interview with Smith, she said she wasn’t aware that she was required to notify the state before providing services other than those for which she had licenses to provide.

According to the report, she told investigators: “You mean I have all these empty offices and I can’t rent them out.”

The report says that the “Transitional Housing Coordinator” who handled the apartments fined clients $40 when they missed three treatment sessions, according to one client. Another client told investigators the agency levied the $40 fine for each missed class.

Current and former clients interviewed by state investigators said they were afraid to talk for fear of being evicted from housing.

One client had a full-time job at the beginning of the program but they were told to quit the job because it didn’t match the hours of the counseling sessions.

Edmond said before she entered the program “occasionally I smoked marijuana. They told me I needed to do everything I could to fail a (urine) test” to be eligible for the program.

But she said once she was in the program she found it pleasant and she was not required to take urine tests to stay in the program.

She said she went to sessions from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily and when she made progress she dropped to three sessions a week.

“I was doing really good,” Edmond said.

She had been living in the Grandview Pointe apartments for only two months with a total of eight people in a three-bedroom apartment.

Then she got word that she would have to leave.

On Tuesday she stood in her room at the Red Roof Inn that she was sharing with her sons and former fiancee. She said she might be leaving soon for personal reasons.

She said that even after she was evicted from her apartment, officials at Ready4Change wanted her to continue classes, but she quit. The transition has been hard, she said.

“I have lost a lot of things,” she said, surrounded by all her possessions in plastic bags, “having to leave stuff behind. Including half of our derned sanity.”

Remembering 9/11

Destiny Bell, 9, and her classmates place red, white and blue pinwheels in front of Hunter Elementary in Greensboro on Tuesday. Students in the ACES afterschool program at Hunter Elementary spent Tuesday planting red, white and blue pinwheels along the entrance to the school. It was one of several projects, along with a campus cleanup, planned at Hunter to commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At right, ACES teacher Hetty Scopel and her students look at a firefighter helmet.

Employee charged with sexual assault of minor at group home co-owned by Greensboro deputy police chief


GREENSBORO — An employee of a group home for troubled youth — co-owned by Deputy Police Chief James Hinson — has been charged with the sexual assault of a minor.

On Monday, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office charged Richard Vernell Heath with one count of statutory sex offense and two counts of indecent liberties with a child, according to court records. He was arrested Tuesday.

The 15-year-old, whose name is being withheld, reported to a state investigator on May 17 — a Friday — that Heath inappropriately touched him in a car. Two days later, the teen claimed that Heath forced him to perform oral sex at the group home while other employees were away.

“He started forcing my head down,” the teen said. “I pulled my head back and I have my lips balled up. I said, ‘Bro, what are you doing?’”

The Division of Health Service Regulation, a state agency, released a 53-page report on July 31 detailing the encounter, a failure by group home staff to report the assault to authorities — and that Hinson tried to pressure the teen to “drop the charges.”

The incident occurred at Center of Progressive Strides, a home for troubled youth in northeast Greensboro. Founded in 2006 by Hinson and Kevin Chandler, a former Greensboro police sergeant, both said last week the group home is now closed — but not because of the allegations.

Hinson and Chandler said the report was biased and didn’t give them a chance to respond to allegations.

“There are many lies, many untruths in that report,” Hinson said.

In the report, Hinson and Chandler are skeptical of the 15-year-old’s account, largely based on what a housemate admitted to them.

“I will be honest: We talked about setting up (Heath) and getting him in trouble so (the 15-year-old) can go home and get out of the group home,” Chandler said the housemate told him.

When Hinson talked to the housemate, he was told something similar. That left him to conclude: “I don’t think this incident happened at all and nothing criminally occurred.”

The Greensboro Police Officers Association had called for Hinson to be placed on administrative duty while the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office investigated the matter. But that didn’t happen.

It’s not the first time Hinson — who some see as a candidate to replace outgoing Chief Wayne Scott — has been at the center of controversy. Over a decade ago, he was at the heart of an alleged racial discrimination scandal that helped lead to the resignation of former Chief David Wray.

On the heels of that came the revelation in 2007 that Hinson, a lieutenant at the time, and Chandler were opening the group home. Both men were criticized for not sharing that with the department.

In 2012, Hinson was a captain leading the police department’s eastern patrol division, where Center of Progressive Strides was located. Some City Council members expressed concern that his role as a top police official wouldn’t be compatible with running a group home should trouble ever arise there.

Now, that concern has come up again.

“Read the report. It is not well written and clearly doesn’t have all the facts,” Hinson said.

An interesting article in today's paper

Hold the phone: Apple is coming out with new iPhones — but fewer people seem to be excited. Page B1

GOP wins 1 N. Carolina congressional seat; eyes on 2nd race

RALEIGH — Republicans won a vacant North Carolina House seat in a special election on Tuesday. But that victory was expected, and all eyes were on another House race in the state that could provide clues about President Donald Trump’s reelection prospects and Republican chances of retaking the House in 2020.

Physician Greg Murphy defeated Democrat Allen Thomas in a district along the state’s Atlantic coast and will succeed the late GOP Rep. Walter Jones Jr., who died in February after 24 years in Congress. Trump won the district comfortably in 2016.

“One down, one to go — Greg Murphy is projected to win in the Great State of North Carolina! #NC03,” Trump tweeted Tuesday night.

In the night’s more compelling race, Republican Dan Bishop, a conservative state senator, was facing Centrist Democrat Dan McCready.

Bishop was leading 50.3% to McCready’s 49.2% with 140 of 210 precincts reporting, according to incomplete and unofficial results about 9:30 p.m.

Early results were delayed when the State Board of Elections voted to extend voting in Mecklenburg’s Precinct 220 by 25 minutes after a gas leak forced the precinct’s closing at 5 p.m. Mecklenburg officials said voters were sent to an adjacent Mint Hill precinct.

Bishop was hoping visits to the GOP-leaning district Monday by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence would boost him to victory. At a rally in a Fayetteville arena, Trump told a MAGA-hat-wearing crowd that backing Bishop would send a message to “the America-hating left.”

Bishop’s conservative credentials include authorship of the state’s 2016 law that dictated which public bathrooms transgender people could use. The law was repealed after it prompted a national outcry and boycotts that The Associated Press estimated cost North Carolina $3.7 billion.

McCready, a former Marine turned financier of solar energy projects, was banking on the district’s moderate suburban voters to carry him over the top. McCready was already a familiar name in the district: He narrowly trailed in an election for the seat last November that was later invalidated after evidence surfaced of vote tampering.

Women and college-educated voters have abandoned Trump in droves over his conservative social policies and vitriolic rhetoric on immigration and race.

“I am a registered Republican, but I am fed up with the agenda of the Republican Party,” said Bob Southern, 75, of Mint Hill, outside Charlotte. “I am so disappointed in this president, and he frightens me very much.”

Southern said he voted for McCready.

Bishop was counting on the district’s Republican-leaning tendencies.

“Bishop, his policies follow my convictions — after hearing Bishop, knowing that he’s for the Second Amendment and he’s against illegal immigration,” said Susie Sisk, 73, another retiree from Mint Hill. The registered Democrat said she voted for Bishop.

Late-summer special elections generally attract such low turnout that their results aren’t predictive of future general elections. Even so, a McCready victory, or even a narrow defeat, would be a blinking yellow light for the GOP.

Such an outcome would signal that the Democrats’ 2018 string of victories in suburban districts in red states including Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas could persist. Trump won the North Carolina district by 11 percentage points in 2016, and the seat has been held by Republicans since 1963, and a loss Tuesday would be a demoralizing preface to party’s campaigns next year.

Suburban defections would also jeopardize the reelection prospects of Trump, who’s already facing slipping poll numbers. Limiting the erosion of those voters will be crucial for him to retain swing states like North Carolina, which he won by less than 4 percentage points in 2016. It would also make the GOP’s uphill effort to regain the House majority even tougher.

A McCready win would also let Democrats brag that they’ll control a congressional district that covers a piece of Charlotte, where next summer’s Republican National Convention will be held to renominate Trump.

The district stretches from Charlotte, one of the nation’s financial nerve centers, through its flourishing eastern suburbs and into less prosperous rural counties along the South Carolina line.

The district received a black eye this year when state officials voided its 2018 election, which McCready lost by 900 votes to then-GOP candidate Mark Harris.