More MS news articles for April 1999

Prosecutors probing MS foundation execs

The state attorney general has already filed a complaint against John Hodson Sr. and his son.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 2, 1999
By Shannon O'Boye
and John Way Jennings

The Camden County Prosecutor's Office has given a list of documents to the state Division of Consumer Affairs for review to determine if any criminal wrongdoing was committed by two former leaders of the locally based Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.

Prosecutor Lee A. Solomon said yesterday he had met with representatives from the state division but declined to discuss the details of that meeting. A Consumer Affairs spokeswoman said it was division policy neither to confirm nor deny the existence of criminal investigations. Earlier this week, the state Attorney General's Office filed a 12-count civil complaint against the multimillion-dollar charity; its founder, John Hodson Sr., 66; and his son, John Hodson Jr., 37.

The civil complaint contends the Hodsons used association money for their personal gain and filed "incomplete and inaccurate information" with the Internal Revenue Service. The complaint also alleges that the two men condoned language used by telemarketers that misled potential contributors about how much of their donations would go toward providing actual services for people suffering from MS.

The civil complaints carry penalties of a maximum fine of $7,500 for the first count of a violation and $15,000 for each additional count. The MSAA board of directors cooperated with the state throughout the course of a 16-month investigation, according to MSAA spokesman Peter Damiri. On Wednesday, it severed all ties with Hodson Sr., the man who founded the organization in 1970 with his late wife, Ruth, in their Oaklyn home. Ruth Hodson, Hodson's second wife, suffered from multiple sclerosis for more than 40 years. She died in 1993.

Hodson Sr. stepped down as president and board chairman of the association in September and was removed from day-to-day involvement in November, but he retained the title of president emeritus of MSAA until this week, drawing half of his $154,000 yearly salary.

Following an internal investigation, the board in December fired Hodson Jr., who was vice president and director of operations, accusing him of using MSAA money for personal expenses, such as trips around Europe. Hodson Sr., who was recovering from gall-bladder surgery, did not return phone calls yesterday. Douglas Johnson, the younger Hodson's attorney, declined to comment on the accusations.

The board hired Douglas Franklin as the new executive director.
Franklin, former director of social marketing for the International Youth Foundation in Baltimore, officially begins April 26. He will earn $139,000 a year.

A portrait of a beaming, impeccably clad Hodson Sr. that used to hang in the lobby of the association's headquarters has been taken down, and his name has been removed from company letterhead. Still, Mark Allen, the interim executive director, said Hodson's legacy remains.

"His leadership style was very paternalistic," Allen said. "There are a lot of seriously mixed feelings among the staff. But that is exactly why the board took the drastic steps that they took. They needed to make it very clear that the focus must be on upholding the public's trust. Anyone can be removed who doesn't do that."

Allen said MSAA was in the process of restructuring and granting the board of directors more of a role in management of the association. "Any nonprofit charitable organization is not structured to be run like a family," he said. "No one should exert total control."