Local charity removes leadership amid questionable finances; criminal investigation underway

Mark and Chris Lawrence

Chris and Mark Lawrence speak during a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 11 at Second and Spruce in Quincy, where the latest tiny home project for the 2×4’s For Hope organization was scheduled to be built. | J. Robert Gough

QUINCY — The future of 2×4’s for Hope, a local charity which builds homes for homeless and at-risk veterans, is in doubt after the organization’s board voted Saturday to remove Mark Lawrence as president and Chris Lawrence as treasurer. The Lawrences, who founded the group, were removed from the board entirely.

Quincy attorney Gerry Timmerwilke filed a temporary restraining order late Friday on behalf of the 2×4’s For Hope board against the Lawrences to keep the couple away from the charity’s finances and property. The order was served to Lawrences on Saturday. Board members and associates removed 2×4’s for Hope property — computers, tools, trailers and other construction equipment — from the Lawrences’ premises in Melrose Township, where most of it had been stored.

Mark and Chris Lawrence are scheduled to appear in Adams County Circuit Court regarding the grounds for the restraining order on Nov. 22.

Adams County State’s Attorney Gary Farha said he learned of the situation about 10 days ago. He confirmed an Illinois State Police investigation is underway.

“ISP is involved because we believe this will be multi-jurisdictional,” Farha said. “(2×4’s for Hope) has built homes in Madison County, Hancock County, Brown County and Adams County. All of those projects will have to be investigated.”

Kevin Murphy was named the board’s interim president upon Mark Lawrence’s removal. Murphy previously was the vice president of the board for 2X4’s for Hope, a 501(c)(3) founded by the Lawrences in May 2015. “Mark and Chris Lawrence, founders of the Quincy-based 501(c)(3) 2×4’s For Hope, have been relieved of their duties to address personal issues,” Murphy said in a statement that was sent to the media on Monday.

Farha confirmed he learned the problem when tools donated to 2×4’s for Hope by Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation — a Brookfield, Wis., company which develops, manufactures and markets power tools — began appearing at Jacksonville and Galesburg Warehouse Bargains stores. The tools were meant for use in the construction of housing for veterans.

Farha said the Milwaukee Tools representatives had given 2×4’s for Hope permission to resell some of the tools. The proceeds had to go to the charity’s coffers, and all proper tax documents were to be filed. He said checks from Quincy Warehouse Bargains were not made out to 2×4’s for Hope but instead to Mark Lawrence, who allegedly did not transfer the funds into the charity’s accounts.

Farha also said multiple checks for tens of thousands of dollars allegedly were made out from 2×4’s for Hope to Lawrence Construction, a business owned by Mark Lawrence that ceased operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawrence Construction completed work on many of the veteran homes. However, Farha said the transfers were not mentioned to the board or approved by the board.

Quincy Medical Group presented a check last week for $65,300 to 2×4’s for Hope. The Quincy Park District donated land on the northwest corner of Second and Spruce. The organization announced plans to build two homes on the lot.

The property already has been deeded from the Park District to the charity. However, QMG stopped payment on the check last week. Quincy Medical Group officials released this statement on Monday: “Our commitment to improving lives for deserving veterans has not changed. However, in light of this information, Quincy Medical Group’s donation has been put on hold.”

From 2015-19, 2×4’s for Hope had received $433,412 in donations, according to the organization’s latest IRS 990 form on file. The 990 listed 2×4’s for Hope as having $35,615 in net assets, but that was as of 2019.

No one was listed as receiving compensation from 2×4’s for Hope up until 2019. The charity since has employed one person full-time to handle marketing and outreach.

While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the charity’s progress, it still received donations in 2020 and 2021. The organization had been looking for a site separate from the Lawrences’ home to relocate its property. An anonymous donor recently rescinded an offer of a significant property donation.

“The board is determined to carry on the amazing work of the organization, both domestically and internationally,” Murphy said in a prepared statement. “Concerned citizens and donors are encouraged to reach out to the organization’s main contact number at (217) 779-8779.”

2×4’s for Hope’s new mailing address is 2×4’s for Hope, P.O. Box 183, Quincy, Ill., 62306.

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