A for-profit co-op intended to benefit farmer veterans is under new management, after embattled leader Jerry Ireland resigned his post on Friday.
On the same day that Ireland stepped down, bank accounts for MaineFirst Co-op were frozen, according to Bob Sousa of Frankfort, the only other person who had access to the money.
“We felt it necessary to freeze those accounts,” Sousa said. “We are in the process of doing an internal audit of the finances. At some point, we’ll have to have a professional to help us. It’s so convoluted, we can’t figure it out the way we need to.”
The co-op is a for-profit enterprise that is a project of the non-profit United Farmer Veterans of Maine, from which Ireland, a veteran himself, resigned as president in early July. That resignation happened after Ireland was beset with legal troubles, including being charged with 13 charges of cruelty to animals connected to the alleged mistreatment and death in March of his heritage Mangalitsa pigs. Ireland is fighting those charges. He also had been sued by the town of Swanville for building code violations, and early last month was sentenced by a Waldo County judge to an $80 fine for building without a permit.
Ireland also had registered as the Republican candidate for Maine House District 98, but withdrew from the race earlier this summer, according to the Maine Secretary of State’s office.
Ireland’s defense attorney, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor, declined to comment Saturday.
Sousa, who has been connected with both the United Farmer Veterans of Maine and the MaineFirst Co-op for some time, said he resigned from the board of the co-op about a month ago and currently serves as the vice president for the United Farmer Veterans of Maine.
“Hindsight’s always 20-20, I’ll say that,” he said, adding that new leadership at both organizations is allowing the groups to return their focus to their original mission of supporting Maine veteran farmers. He and other volunteers from the two organizations have been helping to build a new, safe home for an elderly Korean War veteran who lives in Waldo County. This is something that had been discussed for more than a year but is finally getting off the ground now. Volunteers are hopeful the veteran will have his new home before winter, Sousa said.
“With new leadership at MaineFirst Co-op, we’ve managed to do in three days what we couldn’t do in a year,” he said. “We’re getting ready to frame that house … we should have results before the sun goes down today. I’ve been waiting a year to see this progress.”
According to the website for the United Farmer Veterans of Maine, which aims to support Maine’s military veteran farmers, the co-op was created to financially support the mission of the non-profit group. An interim chief executive officer will be selected by board members, who have been recently elected to that position themselves. Co-op members purchased shares or half shares in exchange for a portion of the co-op’s proceeds. There are currently 156 shareholders, Will Nunnally, the chief operating officer of the co-op, said Saturday. A co-op member told the BDN earlier this summer that she paid $2,250 for her “Patriot” share in the co-op, while her husband, a veteran, paid less for his “Veteran” share. In July, shareholders learned that a long-hoped-for plan to have the United Farmer Veterans of Maine purchase the Windham Butcher Shop in order to benefit co-op members was off the table, an outcome that disappointed many.
Nunnally said that the organization has decided not to make any new promises, but instead to try and make good on promises that already had been made by Ireland and the former board of directors.
“There was a breakdown of execution and completion of our promises. We owe it to our shareholders to accept the baton as it is passed,” Nunnally said. “And to continue forward headstrong and headlong into bringing the goals of the organization into fruition.”
The group is committed to transparency and accountability, he said.
“This new board is respectful and appreciative of Jerry Ireland getting these organizations as far as he could. It’s unfortunate that at this time he had some personal issues that he agreed were not in the best interest of the organization,” Nunnally said. “Moving forward, our goal is to continue the mission, but to do so in an organized manner. I think that will lead to success.”
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