REYNOLDSBURG — The Ohio attorney general’s office obtained a restraining order this week against the operators of a local sober-housing charity, saying the founder exploited residents financially, abused them emotionally and verbally and engaged in activity “wildly inappropriate” for a recovery program.
The Reynoldsburg-based nonprofit organization known as Summer Rays “is and has been a slow-motion crisis on a large scale,” the state said in court documents.
Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David C. Young also granted the attorney general’s request for a court-appointed receiver to take control of Summer Rays’ assets and properties, including 25 houses where 100 or more people live as they try to maintain sobriety from drugs and alcohol.
Recovery-housing operations are largely unregulated in Ohio, with no license or permit required to start a program. That lack of oversight is bumping against soaring demand for housing in a state rife with opioid addiction.
“In many ways, the present case is the first of its kind in Ohio,” the attorney general’s office told the court. “It may not be the last.”
The state conducted a multiyear investigation of Summer Rays, headed for the past 10 years by Reynoldsburg resident Chuck Kirk, 46, his wife and other family members. Kirk also controls Reynoldsburg Revolve Church, the Rev Cafe and a handful of other businesses that, investigators say, depended on Summer Rays residents for labor or as customers. Some residents joked that Summer Rays had “a cult-like environment,” with Kirk wielding absolute authority.
Court documents describe multiple instances of intimidation, including sexual harassment. They say Kirk loudly called one resident a “hillbilly whore” in a public restaurant and threw chairs, cans, water bottles and even hurled “a plastic cup filled with urine, from a drug test, at a Summer Rays resident.”
Many of the residents are in a fragile state, with little money or ability to find somewhere else to live. Kirk kept power by “constantly kicking or threatening to kick Summer Rays residents out of their home,” the court filings said. Most paid between $100 and $150 a week for a room — often shared — in one of the houses, most of which are in the Reynoldsburg area or nearby.
The set-up enriched Kirk and his family members, the state says, and apparently paid for houses for two of his three daughters to live in while in college at Capital University in Bexley and at Kent State University in northeastern Ohio.
Summer Rays often had extremely low account balances when compared with the level of financial activity, the court documents said. During one three-year span, for example, more than $1.7 million was deposited or credited to Summer Rays’ main operating account. Yet the ending balance on monthly statements was often less than $1,000.
Contacted by phone, Kirk said his attorney advised him not to comment.