Conn Humane Society Defends Paying President’s Personal Bills

March 22, 2010

The Connecticut Humane Society has confirmed accusations that it used charity money to pay for its embattled president’s annual real estate and law license renewals, personal publications, and liquor, but insisted that they were all legitimate expenses on behalf one of the oldest and best-known nonprofit agencies in Connecticut.

The defense was contained in a document that attorneys for the society sent to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is investigating accusations made by fired CHS employees against Richard Johnston, who for 20 years has run the Newington-based agency as its full-time president and board chairman. The document was obtained as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request that I had filed early this month.

Hartford attorney Gary Starr, of the law firm of Shipman & Goodwin, which has an attorney on the CHS board, said in his letter to Blumenthal that CHS paid for Johnston’s licenses, but as a result, Johnston saved them tens of thousands of dollars.

By being involved in real estate transactions when the society made its controversial decisions to sell its Stamford and Bethany shelters, Starr said Johnson was able to negotiate real estate commissions substantially less than the normal 10 percent for commercial property.

“In his capacity as President, he utilized his knowledge and experience in commercial real estate to benefit the CHS,” Starr wrote.

The letter does not mention that commissions are simply the percentage that a real estate selling agent requests and that anyone with any knowledge of real estate will demand lower rates if the property is valuable and easy to sell.

For instance, I have bought and sold more than 20 houses in my lifetime and I can’t recall ever paying the full requested six percent that agents normally request for residential property. You don’t need to be a real estate agent or commercial lawyer to know that or to negotiate.

Starr also conceded that Johnston purchased liquor that was paid by the society. While he did not disclose the total amount of liquor that was purchased by Johnston and was then reimbursed by the society, Starr said it was done all behalf of the charity.

The bottles of wine went to workers who put in extra time at the Newington-based agency, while liquor went for private functions, he wrote.

“Mr. Johnston has not used CHS funds to purchase wine or alcohol for his personal consumption or use, other than when entertaining donors, prospective donors, employees and other individuals attending business meetings, or employees at CHS holiday parties,” Starr wrote.

What Starr did not mention is that anyone can be a donor or a potential donor.

Starr also said he found “no indication that CHS funds were used to promote Mr. Johnston’s candidacy” when he ran for the state Senate in 1994. While Starr wrote that postage increased from $7,000 to almost $10,000 that year it was because of additional mailings sent to supports the society.

Starr’s responses were to questions raised by Blumenthal based on accusations I had forwarded to his office from former CHS workers who provided me with letters claiming that Johnston bullied and harassed staff members he did not like and used charity funds for personal expenses, including having his assistants care for his infant daughter at the Newington shelter.

One former employee said she was asked to work on Johnston’s campaign along with other workers at the shelter, stuffing campaign envelopes. She said CHS provided the stamps for these mailings.

Starr’s letter does not indicate whether Johnston or any staff members were asked about the allegations.

Starr also responded to complaints that Johnston’s newspapers – which he refused to share with workers – were paid by the society. Starr said Johnston frequently clipped articles from these publications and provided them to workers and to board members.

Johnston is also being investigated by OSHA, which has recommended that the Newington headquarters facility be fined $6,800 for several safety violations. The fine was recommended after an initial inspection on Sept. 11, 2009, found no problems. After I disclosed complaints from workers that Johnston and his management team distracted OSHA inspectors while Johnston and others hid the violations, OSHA returned in January, interviewed the staff privately and recommended fines based on the new inspection.

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22 Responses to Conn Humane Society Defends Paying President’s Personal Bills

  1. Focus on March 22, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    10% as normal commission for a commercial property? Give me a break. This guy has already discredited himself. What a jackass.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm

      Seems to me, thats just a way of justifying what he took for himself. Which to me means there was PERSONAL GAIN to be had. He should NOT have taken any money at all. Or at the very least, given that money to CHS. This man is beyond evil.

  2. Perplexed on March 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Mr. Johnston used CHS funds to pay for employees alcohol at CHS holiday parties? Since when? The employees had to pay out of their own pockets for any alcohol purchased at the bar when attending holiday functions.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 22, 2010 at 9:01 pm

      I’ve never been to any holiday functions but have never heard anything about him supplying alcohol either. Was always a cash bar, did he even attend these staff parties? I know when there were events at CHS for promotion he was NEVER there. How can the president of the organization NOT be there when people are donating and supporting you. Makes no sense…

  3. OMG on March 22, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Seriously, how can the Board keep defending all the things that have already been proven facts about RBJ? They all profit from him and there for keep trying to cover up for him. With RBJ’s knowledge I doubt he left any trace of evidence of the large profits gained by the sales of these properties. With the assets that CHS has they could be doing a whole lot more to help the animals and public by building other shelters, but they for years have not even given it a second thought, instead hoard all the money for themselves for thier own personal gain. I think Mr. White should be the next to go!

  4. Now a former volunteer on March 22, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Looks like he (they) are really reaching in order to justify some wrong doings. I like the fact that more and more is coming out. It’s time for a change…Time to grab your pull up’s that are full of doo doo and start to move along! The image of the Society needs to be fixed but as long as he is in charge, it can’t be. These admissions have to be taken at face value, no justifications…It’s clear that $3000 dollars in extra postage was used during the same year he was running for office. Coincidence? *cough* NOOOO! Ask those who have donated how they feel about buying bottles of wine for “staff” members when the animals downstairs sometimes didn’t have a blanket to lay down on because you would only allow the staff to solicit for NEW bedding and towels. RJ what were you thinking…not many people are going to run out and buy brand new bedding so the dog’s can soil them….They donate their used stuff rather than throw it out. It’s a huge bonus for shelters. Do you think the dog’s will sniff it and say OH NO, this is not brand new, I can’t lay on this…this has me so fired up….ASK those people how they feel about their donated monies going for his license renewal….

  5. Perplexed on March 22, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    It is also important to note that Chris White said in one of his comments to the press that Mr.Johnston bought wine for employees for working overtime. First of all working over time in not encouraged for hourly paid staff. The times when staff has had to stay after hours to finish up an adoption or to complete cleaning in the incoming department it has been the adoption and incoming staff that has put in the extra time to finish up at the end of the night. None of them have received a gift of any kind, wine or otherwise for doing so. If employees were given wine it was strictly to management, not to the overworked and underpaid staff that work hard day in and day out.

    • Now a former volunteer on March 22, 2010 at 9:06 pm

      Perplexed….I’m also “PERPLEXED”… a former volunteer, I back you up 150%…in fact, that is why they started making sure adoptee’s were AT the desk by 515 so that when teh doors got locked at 5:30, there were no adoptions left to do and therefore NO overtime. It’s all a facade….Give it up ACE, your going down!

  6. OMD on March 22, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    I would like to get some type of compensation for the hours I’ve volunteered, pitched in when there was enough paid staff. Multitasked because there wasnt enough people. Worked in areas of CHS I have never worked before, Maternity, Small Anilmal Area or done laundry. The list goes on and on. I have given up vacation from my full time job. Yes some people may think this is foolish, however I do this for the unconitionals love of the animals! Has RJ ever done any of these things NOT. Sacrificed a Holiday like Christmas to come in and walk dogs. I DOUBT IT! I have never recieve a bottle of wine for doing extra time. Nor do I care! I donate on a weekly basis. I am totally disgusted with the fact that my hard earned money is paying for ATTORNEY expenses to fight the union andd the rest of the BS RJ has spent it on. This whole situation is as bad a corporate corruption. When was the last time RJ was seen at CHS or is he still on medical leave????

  7. Mer on March 22, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    I think it’s particularly illustrative of the state of affairs at CHS that it took them this long to respond, citing their alleged facts. If the Board had any clue as to what was going on they should have been able to turn this around months ago. Or, alternatively, the Board is just as corrupt as RJ and it took them this long to cook the books.

  8. Cathy DeMarco on March 22, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I am not a real estate agent but the Grange, where the Coalition meets, is a commercial building. Numerous commercial agents, which I believe are referred to as brokers, came to give their opinion as to what it should be listed for when we were looking into selling the property. Every single one of them said the commission for a commercial building was between 4-6%. I have never heard of a 10% commission, commercial or residential. Does that exist???

    • Mer on March 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm

      Commissions are negotiable by law – I don’t know if there is a state max, but I doubt it. However, I’ve closed countless commercial real estate transactions in recent years and I have NEVER seen a broker ask for or get 10%. And I’m talking about brokers who scout a property, find buyers, research the buyers, negotiate prices and closing terms, run interference etc. Major, major sales. Not a simple deed transfer like CHS would do.

      So once again, it stands to reason, RJ is lying to the Board and they are failing in their due diligence, or, the Board is lying to the press.

  9. Former Employee on March 23, 2010 at 7:30 am

    The point I keep coming back to is, even if all of these accusations are false (which they are not)…someone with Richard Johnson’s personality and management skills has absolutely no business running a non-profit organization of this size. I know it seems like stating the obvious- but he’s just not a nice person…period. After a while, all the good employees leave- either by resigning or being fired for questioning the lunacy- and it costs the organization a ton of money. When the organizations loses money, animals suffer.

  10. Concerned too on March 23, 2010 at 11:50 am


  11. Volunteer on March 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    He resigned today!!!

    • Concerned too on March 23, 2010 at 12:50 pm

      AWESOME NEWS!!!!!!!

    • One More Volunteer on March 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm

      For those who are no longer employees and volunteers and who therefore didn’t receive the email containing the press release about his majesty’s resignation, I’ve pasted it below. Christopher White is named President of the Board. I don’t really know the board. Is he a decent person?



      Richard Johnston, President, CEO and Board Chairman of the Connecticut Humane Society announced his resignation from the organization this afternoon.

      “After giving 24 years of dedicated service to the Connecticut Humane Society and its Fox Memorial Pet Hospital, all with an emphasis on saving life and creating state-of-the-art pet shelters, pet home sanctuaries, and medical facilities, all to the purpose of compassionately housing pets and medically treating them when necessary, I have decided to go on to other philanthropic pursuits,” Johnston said.

      “Over the years I have approached both my job and the mission of the Connecticut Humane Society with absolute integrity, fairness, professionalism, and moving to the ultimate goal of having every place for every unwanted animal through a non-kill approach. I have attained the important legislative goals of the establishment of including pets in estate planning with Pet Trusts, a state mandate to include our pets in disaster response planning, and the protection of wildlife and important state and regional heritage sites through the protection of our dwindling spaces. I have sincerely tried to speak consistently for every animal in our state as they cannot speak for themselves.”

      Johnston concluded: “I wish all of the best to the dedicated employees, volunteers and supporters of both organizations as our world needs, more than ever, the Society’s mission of ‘promoting humanity and kindness.’ Thank you for your kind support over the years, and may God bless you.”

      The Board accepted Johnston’s resignation as Executive Director and from the Board of Directors by acknowledging his many years of dedicated service, and thanking him for his commitment to the 129 year-old charitable institution. The Board particularly noted his service to the people and animals of New Orleans during his leadership of a disaster response team during the immediate two weeks following Hurricane Katrina.

      The Board of Directors has taken steps to ensure a smooth transition at the conclusion of Johnston’s tenure. Chief Financial Officer Raymond Gasecki was appointed Acting Executive Director, and Fox Memorial Clinic Director Joanne Freeman was named Acting Assistant Executive Director.

      Board member Christopher White was elected President of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Humane Society and President of the Board of Directors of the Fox Memorial Clinic.

      “Our first order of business was to form a Personnel Committee comprised of members of both Boards, to begin the search for a new Executive Director,” White said. “We expect the process to take 4-6 months, but in the meantime we are very well served by Ray and Joanne, who are both dedicated and caring individuals who are committed to continuing the great work of the Connecticut Humane Society.”

  12. Mer on March 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    CONGRATULATIONS to Bridget and Maureen and Kathy, to George, to NBC, to the Coalition, to the Volunteers and OSHA! This is a huge accomplishment and a giant step forward for CHS and the animals!

    Thank you everyone for your hard work and dedication! Richard would not have stepped down for one person’s allegation or complaints. Well done, everyone!

    • Also a Volunteer on March 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm

      Sometimes the good guys DO win! I can’t stop smiling. THANK YOU EVERYONE for your dedication, commitment and loyalty to the animals and staff at CHS!

    • Mer on March 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm

      Sorry, that’s Cathy, not Kathy. My apologies!!

  13. Bridget on April 3, 2010 at 9:15 am

    All of the allegations of financial wrong doings are accurate, there are so many witnesses to attest to this . I would not provide the public with false information…it would be foolish of me to do so; as long as what I’m saying is truthful and accurate I have no reason to worry about exposing it.
    If I were lying, what would I have to gain? And, if I were lying I would not have gone public with my findings or have reported them in writing to the AG. If I were lying I wouldn’t talk to reporters, and the public…If I were lying I would be acting like CHS management and the BOD. “No comment, we’ve got a heck of a lot to conceal and nothing truthful to say to defend ourselves” it’s a shame and it’s blatantly obvious.
    I urge the public to ask questions and to do the research; you will soon come to the same conclusion, CHS management and the BOD acted illegally if not criminally. Misuse of funds, harassment of employees, and animal abuse and neglect; and they continue to operate in this fashion. CT citizens need to ask these questions and get involved; all the thousands of wonderful donors need to ask the question, “where has my money gone and what exactly has it paid for?” I’m sure you not be pleased with the vague, and well tailored PR retort you receive.

    • Lindsay on April 15, 2010 at 11:30 pm

      I know that my signed statement wasn’t something i just pulled out my you-know-what! no one would have done that. yet we’ve all supposedly made things up that seem to coroborate with one another, hmmmm

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