CHARLESTON - As police swooped in to arrest Faith Haven's former director on a fraud charge Friday, residents of the troubled sober-living facility learned they had until Saturday to vacate the stately mansion that the program called home.
Mount Pleasant police arrested the program's founder, Wendy Johnston, on a charge of obtaining property by false pretenses. She is accused of forging her board president's signature on a document to buy a Chevy Suburban in June, according to police reports. She was picked up at her Daniel Island home and hauled off to jail on her 42nd birthday, authorities said.
Meanwhile, eight recovering alcoholics and drug addicts staying at Faith Haven received notice that they had until 3 p.m. today to leave 64 Rutledge Ave., a nearly 6,000-square-foot mansion where the program has been housed since August. The notice was signed by Dan Mengedoht, whose family owns the home, and Charles Dukes, president of Faith Haven.
Dukes fired Johnston on Tuesday, terminated the lease and filed paperwork dissolving Faith Haven as a corporation. Mengedoht had allowed residents to stay in the home, which is on the market for $2.5 million, while volunteers scrambled to find new homes for the residents.
Mengedoht and Dukes met with city attorneys on Friday to discuss the situation. Adelaide Andrews, deputy corporate counsel for the city of Charleston, said the city took no position, as it was a matter between private individuals. City lawyers did, however, urge them to look into finding alternative arrangements for the people staying in the home, she said.
Mengedoht and Dukes called various agencies that had referred clients to Faith Haven to get their assistance, and Dukes drove at least one tenant home to Hilton Head Island Friday night. Dukes did not return a phone call seeking comment.
With no lease in place, no program operating and no supervision to help the residents with their sobriety, it seemed best for them to leave, Mengedoht said.
"It has been clear for a week or two that this program was not going to go on forever," Mengedoht said. "This should not be a surprise to anyone."
William Drolshagen, a recovering crack addict and alcoholic still staying in the home, said most of the current residents had been staying there less than two weeks and were blindsided by the announcement. He felt they should have been given more time to make alternate plans. He also questioned the legality of the notice to vacate, which wasn't notarized or signed by a judge.
Mengedoht said institutions offering religious, medical or counseling services are exempt from the requirements of South Carolina's landlord-tenant act. Faith Haven registered with the Secretary of State's office as a nonprofit, religious corporation.
Some residents planned to stay with friends or return home. Others said they had spoken to Johnston and she had invited them to stay with her at her Daniel Island home. It was unclear how her arrest might affect those plans.
Johnston, a former car dealer facing judgments of more than $500,000 for unpaid debts, founded Faith Haven late last year. She moved the program into a Daniel Island condominium complex, but it was evicted in August after failing to pay rent, according to court documents and her former landlord.
The Mengedoht family said they allowed the program to move into the mansion because they thought they were helping a good cause. Neighbors, however, soon complained about noise, disruptions and a lack of supervision at the home.