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Ministry leaders accused of bad faith dealings with ranch

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | April 5, 2020 1:00 AM

A new allegation against Potter’s Field Ministries founders Mike and Pam Rozell has surfaced from the owners of a Whitefish area ranch who claim the ministry leaders operated in bad faith and failed to make lease payments on the ranch property.

“They were the cause of our financial ruin,” said Amy Ericksen, who rented the property known as Potter’s Field Ranch—formerly the Whitefish Equestrian Center—to the Rozells from June 2018 to July 2019 when the ministry suddenly closed. amid allegations of abuse against interns.

“We suffered financially from their shenanigans and we still are suffering to this day.”

Ericksen and her husband Kirk, who opened Home Consign and Design in Whitefish in November 2019, own a 40-acre property on Twin Bridges Road that includes a three-bedroom home and horse stables. The Ericksens previously operated a horse boarding facility and pony camps for children at the site.

In June 2018, Ericksen said she was approached by the Rozells to rent the ranch to Potter’s Field Ministries for its ministry activities. The Ericksens and the Rozells entered into two separate agreements at the time—a lease to the Rozells to rent out the property for up to two years at $6,000 in monthly rent, and an option-to-purchase agreement giving the Rozells the option to buy the ranch outright at the end of the two-year period.

In July 2019, when allegations against the ministry began circulating publicly, the Rozells abruptly terminated their lease with nearly a year left on the agreement and declined their option to purchase the property. Rob McCoy, who had been brought in from Thousand Oaks, California, to oversee the ministry at the time, agreed to pay four months out of the outstanding 12 months rent—leaving the Ericksens with $24,000 and nothing further.

Ericksen said she felt blindsided by the sudden decision to dissolve both agreements and strong-armed into quickly renegotiating with the Rozells to try to recoup as much money as they could from the nullified contracts.

“It was really, really disappointing and discouraging,” she said.

Ericksen and her husband believe they were denied payments they were due—including the expected $2.5 million to eventually sell the property and thousands of dollars in unpaid property taxes the Rozells refused to cover.

SHARON DIMURO, the Rozells’ attorney, maintains the Potter’s Field leadership did nothing illegal by renegotiating the ranch property contracts. She said she believes the ranch owners were simply victimized by their own bad business dealings and now want to try to extort the Rozells for more money than they are due.

“We had no (sic) obligation to pay anything further upon termination of the lease,” DiMuro wrote in an email to the Inter Lake. “…but Rob McCoy was being sympathetic and so he agreed to an additional four months of payments ($24,000) BEYOND our use and possession of the property.

“Because they had not been managing their funds well, they were in financial distress (cash flow poor) and wanted PFR to pay more,” DiMuro added. “We respectfully declined.”

She pointed to the original option-to-purchase document, which gives the lessee the option to purchase the property at the end of two years or “terminate the lease, vacate the property and abandon any option to purchase.”

She also said, based on the agreement to terminate the lease and exclusive option to purchase, signed by Rob McCoy and the Ericksens on July 31, 2019, “we have satisfied the obligations under the Agreement to Terminate the Lease and Optional Purchase Agreement (which canceled out ALL the original Lease and Purchase Option terms).”

BUT ERICKSEN said the disagreement is more complicated than it might appear on paper. Even though the original option to purchase agreement includes the possibility the lessee would not purchase the property at the end of the two-year period, Ericksen said her understanding was always that the Rozells would eventually buy the ranch from her at the end of the lease term.

“I only would lease if it was attached to a buy-sell [agreement],” she explained. “Their intent was to purchase the property, period.”

She added the Rozells paid her an undisclosed down payment in June 2018, which indicated to her they were intent on buying the property, rather than just renting it. Ericksen also gave the ministry members full access to about a quarter-million dollars’ worth of farm equipment on the ranch under the expectation they would eventually buy it from her, which she said she would not have allowed from a renter.

“That’s the only reason we signed the lease up-front,” Ericksen said. “In my mind we had sold it.”

She said the dissolution of the sale, as well as the losses of eight months’ rent and $4,000 in unpaid property taxes, “had a horrific ripple effect on us.

“Not having that income, I can’t even tell you what it did to us,” she said, tearing up.

When the ministry came under fire for widespread abuse allegations, Ericksen said she was approached by Rob McCoy, who told her the ministry was shutting down, they were selling all of their properties and there was no money left to pay her. In 24 hours, and following a police raid on the ranch to check on the Potter’s Field interns, Ericksen hastily drew up the paperwork to terminate the lease, hoping to avoid any potential liability for wrongdoing that might have occurred at the ranch property and to recover any amount of money possible from her supposedly financially strapped lessee.

THERE WAS also a cloud on the title for the ranch that prevented the Ericksens from selling it to anyone but Potter’s Field Ministries without dissolving their original agreements. Ericksen said this was a major factor that drove her to try to strike the quickest deal possible to separate herself from the controversial ministry officials.

But she said she was disappointed when she later learned the Rozells had knowledge of potential issues in January 2019, but failed to try to renegotiate with her until the end of July. She said she learned Pam Rozell kept the knowledge of abuse allegations under wraps for months.

“I really wish they had told us when they knew in January,” Ericksen stated. “From January to July is a very long time to keep moving forward in a downward spiral.”

She said she felt the delayed information put her in a difficult position to quickly try to regroup, and her connection with the Rozells at the time when abuse allegations emerged has hurt her own reputation.

“I don’t want anybody to think we’re part of them,” Ericksen insisted, but she said she’s received negative feedback at her home consignment store because some customers think she is complicit in Potter’s Field Ministries’ alleged mistreatment of interns.

Because of the black cloud around the ministry’s name, Ericksen said she decided to stop trying to sell the ranch property until she can build up her own reputation. She and her family are now moving into the ranch property and reopening it as Whitefish Equestrian Center. They hope to start a horse boarding cooperative and build community relations for the next few years before putting the ranch back on the market.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.

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Horse stables are shown at the site of the Potter's Field Ranch and Whitefish Equestrian Center on Friday, April 3. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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The letters "PFR" are stenciled on a barrel inside an enclosure at the site of the Potter's Field Ranch and Whitefish Equestrian Center on Friday, April 3. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Horse stables are shown at the site of the Potter's Field Ranch and Whitefish Equestrian Center on Friday, April 3. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)