Sparks fly over Deerfield concert, fireworks

By Mike Sever Record-Courier staff writer Published:

DEERFIELD _ The fireworks have started early over the annual summer music concerts at Midwest Fireworks Manufacturing Co., Inc.

The company ran a legal advertisement Wednesday notifying Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley about three events in May and June so the non-profit groups sponsoring them can get special event liquor licenses.

The legal ad was necessary because Kaley has been avoiding being served notice of the events, said Larry Lomaz, who operates the fireworks firm on U.S. 224 in southwestern Deerfield.

Special event, beer-sales-only licenses may be withheld by the state Division of Liquor Control if a county sheriff is not properly notified.

Lomaz said Kaley "has been ducking their process server. They went to his home and he refused to come out to accept service."

Kaley said he had no knowledge of anyone coming to his residence to serve him with notice of the upcoming events.

Denise Smith, head of the civil division of the Portage County Prosecutor's office, said the ad does constitute service. The sheriff has an appeal process to the license being granted, Smith said.

Kaley said he will confer with legal counsel concerning what he will do next, but he said he is not a fan of the planned events.

"I just think fireworks and alcohol is not a good combination," he said. "Alcohol and a motor vehicle is not a good combination. We know from occasions with liquor control out there previously that there were violations, and I have a concern for the safety of everyone involved. I just don't think alcohol being served in proximity to a fireworks facility is a safe endeavor."

When Lomaz previously hosted similar events, the phones at the sheriff's office "rang off the wall" with complaints from area residents, Kaley said.

According to the ad, the Trumbull County National Spinal Cord Association is sponsoring a four-day event to run May 22 through May 25. Portage Children's Charities, Inc. is sponsoring an event June 11 through June 15; and Children Are The Future Foundation, Inc. is sponsoring June 18 through June 22.

Portage Children's Charities and Children Are The Future Foundations were both incorporated Feb. 18, and all three groups have the same attorney, Gregory V. Hicks of Warren. Both have 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

Hicks and Earnest Cook of Brookfield are listed as the incorporators of Portage Children's and Children Are the Future Foundation.

Hicks was not available for comment Wednesday about the charities or who would benefit from event proceeds.

The state attorney general's office said the three groups are not registered with the state.

"In general, if an organization has tax-exempt, 501 (c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service, or if it is fund-raising and bringing in more than $25,000 a year, it is required to be registered" with the state, however there are exemptions, according to a Susan Verble, spokesperson from the attorney general's office.

"It's of concern to the attorney general's office when for-profit business work together with charities because the money that is raised by the charity needs to go to the charity. We would be concerned about that kind of activity," Verble said.

Craig Conkle, director of charities for the Youngstown Better Business Bureau, said he was not familiar with the spinal cord association.

"There are 104 charities in our local area, and I know that Trumbull County National Spinal Cord Association is not one of them," Conkle said. He noted there is no requirement that charities file with the BBB.

Conkle said he was surprised that a charity dealing with spinal cord injuries is a sponsor.

"It's just not typical that a spinal cord association would have anything to do with an event that serves alcohol," he said.

Lomaz said Midwest Fireworks has been sponsoring summer events for more than two decades.

Last year, several local charities pulled out at the last minute because of what Lomaz called the "bullying tactics" of the sheriff.

Now, Lomaz said, he will not allow Portage County charities to sponsor events at the grounds because they would pull out again.

There has been opposition from nearby residents because of the traffic and congestion during the weekend events. But Lomaz said Deerfield should be grateful for the business he brings to the township.

"Anybody who lives here knows I clog the highways in June and July. If it's causing congestion, they should widen the roads."

As for local opposition, he said, "all they do is make my lawyers a lot of money."

Lomaz said the three events are just the beginning.

"Just tell them to watch for big things out of Deerfield," Lomaz said. "We're booked all the way through the 4th of July, and have a few things past the Fourth," he said.

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