A former treasurer on The Refuge board of directors is upset that the nonprofit organization is sending out fundraising letters, despite an ongoing investigation into an arson fire that heavily damaged The Refuge in 2018.

Larry Boschee of rural Lake Park would like to see The Refuge Christian Outreach Center put fundraising on hold until the criminal case is completed.

One person has been charged already: Gary John Bogatz, 40, of Elk River, is charged with first-degree arson, insurance fraud and second-degree burglary in the case.

He admitted to a Detroit Lakes police investigator and Commerce Fraud Bureau special agent that he was involved in the arson, according to a July news release from the State Commerce Department.

Bogatz told investigators that on Sept. 18, 2018, he was asked by a board member of The Refuge and another individual with connections to The Refuge to start the fire. Neither person was named in the news release.

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Bogatz said the individuals told him The Refuge would have to be shut down unless “something happened.” Bogatz said the individuals told him they have “a lot of fire insurance” on the building, and he was instructed to make it look like a burglary and burn the place down.

Bogatz said he and another man later kicked in the back door of The Refuge and gasoline was used to start the fire.

The case is still under investigation, according to both Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steve Todd and Andrea Bexell, an investigator with the state fire marshal’s office. Contacted separately, both said the investigation remains active, and that they can’t talk about it for that reason.

Mel Manning, founder and president of The Refuge, referred questions board member Ted Seibel.

“Absolutely nothing has been filed against The Refuge,” said Seibel, a former attorney in Harvey, N.D. “You have a defendant who has made some allegations,” he said.

The public needs to remember that The Refuge is run by a governing board of directors and Manning answers to that board, Seibel said in an interview. “The Refuge is not Mel Manning, there is a distinction,” he said. The Refuge has a perfect right to send out fundraising letters, he added in an email, saying "...our supporters (deserve) the opportunity to be informed and be a part of this new and exciting endeavor of The Refuge."

According to a fundraising letter, The Refuge is looking to raise more than $60,000 to complete a 15-bed women’s treatment center. Some of the big ticket items include $24,000 for a security system, $20,000 for a minivan, and about $7,000 for 30 beds with mattresses.The Refuge is also seeking donations for things like door knobs, dressers, night stands and computer equipment.

The Refuge received a large insurance settlement after the fire, which Boschee said he believes should have been enough to cover rebuilding and furnishing costs. While he was treasurer, The Refuge received an insurance check for $148,945 (just part of the larger settlement) to cover lost inventory.

“Why are they asking for donations now for inventory, when they got the insurance check? The public needs to know what happened to this money,” he said in an interview. Boschee said that as treasurer, he wanted to open an inventory account to make sure those needs were met, but others at The Refuge “had a big fit about that,” and insisted the check go into the general fund instead, he said.

In an email, Seibel noted that “The Refuge is currently in compliance with all state and federal laws in good standing,” and that it submits to audits by an independent chartered public accountant, “as all non-profit corporations under the same circumstances as The Refuge are required to do.”

Needless to say, there is no love lost between Boschee and The Refuge.

Boschee filed a case in Becker County Reconciliation Court seeking $15,000 from The Refuge and its president, Melvin Manning, for money Boschee loaned to The Refuge with expectation of payment, according to records.

In a mediated settlement signed by Manning, The Refuge agreed to pay Boschee $13,652 in $2,000 monthly payments.

Boschee has also thrown his support behind a competing women’s treatment center planned for Detroit Lakes.

Recovery Community Resources, a nonprofit based in Detroit Lakes, has made Becker County a $600,000 offer to buy the former minimum security jail building on Randolph Road in Detroit Lakes.

The center will have inpatient and outpatient services, and the building will be remodeled to create 15 inpatient rooms, said Shelly Petrik of Ada, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, who until June worked as director of The Refuge’s Compassion House, a 15-bed treatment center for men. Anderson St. George is the current Compassion House director, Siebel said,

Now there are two competing women’s treatment centers planned for Detroit Lakes. Both require a Statement of Need from Becker County to get a state treatment permit, and Seibel believes there is only enough need in the area to justify one women’s treatment center.

“Now there is the need for a document to be signed by the county,” Seibel said, “and ironically, the other party is opening a treatment center in a building owned by the county.”

The Refuge’s women’s treatment center will be called Day Star Recovery Center, and is near completion, Seibel said. It will be in the reconstructed Refuge building at 921 Eighth St. in Detroit Lakes. The Compassion House men’s treatment center is nearby.

“We have a completed building ready for occupancy, there’s about 5% left on the building to meet the requirements of an addictive care facility for women,” Seibel said in an interview. “A statement of need from the county is all that’s needed.”

He believes the county would be hard-pressed to deny the need, and “after that, we’ll apply for a state license. Once we have the license, we can almost immediately begin treatment, we have counselors ready to go -- we can share licensed counselors from the Compassion House,” he said.

The Mahnomen County Social Services Department supports The Refuge’s plans, Seibel said.

“Opening a women’s only treatment facility in neighboring Becker County would be a tremendous asset to our county,” the department supervisor wrote in a letter to the state. “Instead of sending a woman hours away from her child, she would be sent to a familiar community that is convenient for visitation.”

Detroit Lakes approved a conditional use permit for The Refuge's women's treatment shelter in March 2019.