0

GFL president now charged in rental dispute

Erik Richards is the President of the Gwinnett County Football League.

Erik Richards is the President of the Gwinnett County Football League.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The president of the Gwinnett Football League has been charged in a contentious rental dispute that previously led to the arrest of his father and another business associate.

Erik Richards -- the longtime leader of the GFL, a youth football organization with 19 member associations across the county -- was arrested Monday and charged with one count of felony theft by taking. He was indicted on the charge in late April, along with his father, Charles Richards; mother, Hilda Richards; and associate, Alan Polson.

The allegations date back to August, when a Gwinnett-based ministry renting space owned by the elder Richards and managed by his son filed reports claiming their goods had been stolen.

Duluth police officers were originally called to the property at 3560 Buford Highway on Aug. 22 when the leader of Meet the Need Ministries, a group that seeks to help local men struggling with addiction and homelessness, reported that her organization had been locked out of the space it was renting as a thrift store. Jane Alvarez, the ministry's executive director, said that Polson, a fellow tenant in the building, was "actually inside the store selling the (ministry's) donated goods without the permission or knowledge of the ministry."

When confronted, Polson reportedly said he was getting rid of the ministry's things at the request of the building's owner, Charles Richards, who lives in Florida. He said that Richards "wanted all the stuff removed from the thrift store, because someone else wanted to rent it and the painters needed to get in," according to an incident report.

Polson said he only sold about $150 worth of merchandise but gave away much more. Estimates by ministry staff accounts included $13,151 in missing merchandise, from TVs and baby cribs to a chandelier, washer and dryer and church pews.

Erik Richards, who reportedly manages the property for his parents, told police that the facility had been rented out on a month-to-month basis, "knowing that it was a nonprofit and he was trying to help them out." Over the months, though, rent payments reportedly grew scarce and Richards changed the locks and wouldn't allow Alvarez access to the building.

Charles Richards and Polson were charged and arrested in September, but Erik Richards and his mother, who jail records show had not yet been arrested, were not charged until last month's indictments were brought down. It was unclear Wednesday what, if any, new developments led to the additional charges.

Records show Erik Richards was released Monday on $2,950 bond. He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

All four suspects are due for arraignment on May 28.