MOUNT HOPE —
Good deeds in dispute
Mount Hope High School was consolidated in 2011, much to the sorrow of many proud Mustangs. The building was shuttered, but not for long.
“The needs of the Mount Hope community require the use of the property for charitable purposes,” says a deed that transfers the building from the school board to MHHH on June 30, 2011.
It contains a reversion clause that says the building will revert to the Board of Education if MHHH is dissolved or if the building ceases to be used for the community within five years.
“From our perspective, it’s been great,” said Fayette County Schools Operations Director Ron Cantley. “We thought of it as a win-win.”
The school board even carried insurance for MHHH for a few months as a goodwill gesture.
But that fall, Sohonage approached the board of yet another hopefully named community organization in town — Mountain of Hope — about the possibility of its taking over the school.
“Sohonage ... said he’d been authorized by Heritage and Hope to turn the property over to us, and I was part of a team that was supposed to evaluate whether we should do this or not,” says Jack Spadaro, a board member of Mountain of Hope who says he doesn’t know anybody else in either factious group.
After touring the building and considering further, the group concluded it would be unwise to take on what members saw as the multimillion-dollar project of renovating the school. Spadaro also says that he didn’t trust various aspects of Sohonage’s dealings in the situation.
Soon after, MHHH and ON TRAC split.
And two weeks later, The Center of Hope was created, with Sohonage as the sole incorporator.
The very same day, on Feb. 1, 2012, another deed was filed that transferred the high school from MHHH to The Center of Hope. It is signed by Sohonage and Loetterle, who are listed as vice president and secretary/treasurer of MHHH, respectively.
The deed was prepared by Sherri Goodman, a lawyer for the West Virginia Department of Education.
Goodman says the department’s staff attorney was approached by Sohonage, who asked about the reversion clause in the original lease.
“Mr. Sohonage, who was V-P of Mt. Hope & Heritage, (asked) if the reverter clause would go into effect if Mt. Hope & Heritage deeded the property to another nonprofit organization that would continue the community activities,” Goodman told The Register-Herald. “She said that it would not.”
Goodman said Sohonage requested the attorney review a draft deed. Because it contained some inapplicable legal code, the attorney offered to prepare a more appropriate deed.
“The attorney prepared the deed to further the Fayette County Board of Education’s interest in seeing that the building would continue to be used to benefit the Mount Hope community and not revert back to the board,” says Goodman.
When MHHH learned of the property transfer, which it terms fraudulent, the group says it acted immediately to remove Sohonage from the board and revoke his access to the group’s bank accounts.
The Bank of Mount Hope froze one of the organization’s accounts, which contained approximately $25,000, for many months because of the conflict.
In its statement, MHHH claims that Sohonage plotted for several months to get control of the school and made “a calculated series of misrepresentations” to government officials in the process.
“These misrepresentations include false and misleading statements about his authority to act on behalf of our Board and about his work and educational backgrounds,” MHHS says.