GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The former CEO accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a nonprofit says she is innocent, and the allegations against her are an effort to cover up her “wrongful termination” and take her intellectual property.
A Friday statement on behalf of Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh, the founder and former CEO of the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, said the allegations are false.
In the statement, Ezeh’s attorney, Stephen Drew of Drew, Cooper & Anding, claimed ELNC filed the lawsuit so it could use Ezeh’s intellectual property without paying her fairly.
In her work with ELNC, Ezeh created and implemented a new approach to early childhood education, known as the Empowering Parents Impacting Children Model, that “changed the face of early childhood education in Western Michigan,” according to the statement. The EPIC Model was “embedded within ELNC’s business model” and was “the framework for all ELNC’s services,” Ezeh’s attorney wrote in the statement.
According to the statement, Ezeh refused to hire a board member, and ELNC terminated her “in retaliation.”
When Ezeh demanded that ELNC enter into a licensing agreement so that it could continue to use her EPIC Model, the statement alleged that ELNC then filed its lawsuit to discredit Ezeh and her “claims for wrongful termination” so that it could use her intellectual property without paying her fairly.
“Tactics like this have often been used to steal property and tarnish the legitimacy of claims of black and brown people,” Ezeh’s attorney wrote.
ELNC’s complaint contains “critical omissions and misrepresentations,” per the statement.
Despite social media posts alleging that Ezeh had fled to Africa, her attorney said she was, in fact, in West Michigan.
On Wednesday, ELNC announced it was going under and laid off its 30 employees.
ELNC’s lawsuit, filed Sept. 15, alleged that the embezzlement and fraud of Ezeh and former Director of Finance and Administration Sharon Killebrew “decimated” the organization.
Killebrew previously denied wrongdoing in a conversation with Target 8, saying the allegations left her “devastated.”
Ezeh’s attorney indicated they were planning to file a formal response to ELNC’s lawsuit.
Brian Lennon, the attorney for ELNC, provided News 8 with the following response to Ezeh’s statement: “We stand by our investigation and legal complaint. We welcome the opportunity to present our evidence in court.”