Ralston owners moved money away from building maintenance, expert says

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CSU Professor Dr. Joshua Brooks

The civil wrongful death case of a Ralston Towers’ resident in 2017 turned to the financials of the company that owns the low-income housing apartment building.

Charles Hart, 62, died on July 6, 2017 in Ralston room 322. At the time Hart’s body was discovered, the room was more than 98 degrees because of air conditioning issues in the building. 

The civil case ended its third day Wednesday in front of Muscogee County State Court Judge Andy Prather.  It is expected to last until the end of the week or possibly go into next week.

One of the contentions of residents and city officials since 2016 is that the Ralston owners, New Jersey-based PF Holdings, has not maintained the building or its systems.  

Charlie Gower, the lawyer for Hart and his daughter Christina Thornton, are trying to show the lack of maintenance was a contributing factor in Hart’s death.

That has led to concerns about the living conditions inside the 269-unit, nine-story building on 12th Street. 

Columbus State University business professor, Dr. Joshua Brooks, testified for the plaintiffs. Dr. Joshua Brooks outlined how he thinks almost $4 million from a $10 million deal was removed. That money was transferred to private interests, primarily a non-profit organization, School House Road Estates LLC, with a Brooklyn, N.Y address. 

By taking the cash out of the corporation, it was not available to properly maintain the building, Gower contends.  

“This cash is no longer available from the control entity,” Brooks told the jury. “The necessary repairs won’t be able to get paid for, surprise expense or possibly bills that occur. So, from a risk pension standpoint, this makes the organization much weaker to no longer have access to this cash.” 

Gower kept asking Brooks about the economic impact of removing that money. Atlanta defense attorney James Budd, on cross-examination of Brooks, asked several questions trying to show that these types of business deals are not unusual. 

A former maintenance man, Mark Williams, outlined a number of problems with management and the building during his testimony.

“It was a mess,” said Williams, who had 20 years of maintenance experience and left just before Hart’s death after working there for about six months.

There was not money or parts to make proper repairs, he told the jury. He also outlined issues with the property manager, who he claimed altered his time card.

“I worked 50 hours, she scratched through it and put 40,” he said. “She said I would get comp time.”

Rickey Talley has lived at The Ralston for nearly five years. He moved in during November 2014 after being homeless.

Talley said the building was “in horrible condition.” It took three to four months to get work orders addressed.

The jury spent nearly 12 minutes watching a video Talley shot inside the facility. It showed leaks, trash cans catching water, an elevator door that had been replaced with sheetrock.

Budd objected to Talley’s video and the narration. Prather let it in over the objection.

The case will resume tomorrow morning with the plaintiff continuing to present its case. 

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