Tom Linzey and His CELDF at War Over Corporate Greed

Tom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

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Tom Linzey founded the CELDF so he wouldn’t need to get a job and could rant about corporate greed. Now he’s the prime example, say CELDF staff suing him!

When the Allegheny Defense Project’s Ryan Talbott took a position on the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) board in 2016, he said the following:

“I’m excited to get to work with local communities to protect the rights of their residents and nature from corporate greed.”

Three years later, Ryan Talbott has apparently left the board and the staff is suing one its founders, the notorious Tom Linzey, for what can only be described as an especially egregious case of corporate greed on his own part if the accusations are true.

tom linzey

Karl Marx and Tom Linzey

Attacking corporate greed has been the mainstay of the CELDF ever since Tom Linzey and his former girlfriend Stacey Schmader created the corporation in 1995. That was at the same time he was graduating from law school and the CELDF gave him a platform to grab money from other guilt-ridden trust-funders and make a name for himself without working for a living. Since then, the CELDF has conned one naive community after another into adopting one of its ludicrous, corporation outlawing, “community rights” or “rights of nature” ordinances.

You can explore the history of Tom Linzey and his extremist outfit here. It’s been one long series of losses in court as judges have thrown out his ordinances with a consistency matched only by the seemingly bottomless list of new local officials willing to entertain his bizarre legal theories, even as he promised to bankrupt them. This culminated in Grant Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania being ordered by Obama appointed Judge Susan Paradise Baxter to pay $100,000 in PGE’s legal fees for blindly following Tom Linzey, with Linzey himself and another CELDF attorney being referred to the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board for their “bad faith” lawyering and sanctioned to the tune of $52,000.

Tom Linzey apparently knew the game was up when Judge Baxter called him out as having no clothes. I say that because CELDF co-founder, Secretary/Treasurer and former Linzey girlfriend Stacey Schmader, together with seven other CELDF staff members, has filed for an injunction against Tom Linzey to stop him, they say, from absconding with an estimated $800,000 of tax-exempt funds donated to the non-profit corporation by the Colcom Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the Tides Foundation, the Park Foundation, the Schwab Charitable Fund and the Wallace Global Fund, among others, including Leonardo DiCaprio.

You can read the whole thing here. It’s a truly remarkable document, exposing the apparent corporate greed that is Tom Linzey. It accuses him of violating fiduciary duties, engaging in self-dealing, civil conspiracy and violation of Racketeer Influenced & Corrupted Organizations (RICO) Act. This is one ticked off former girlfriend and set of employees, one of whom is this woman:

Tom Linzey

Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck, co-founder of Lancaster Against Pipelines and now a frustrated CELDF employee going after Tom Linzey in court

Clatterbuck and Schmader haven’t changed their stripes. They’re still radical promoters of the CELDF’s essentially Marxist revolutionary agenda, but what they’ve now suggesting is that Tom Linzey was never about anything other than himself, his giant ego and his personal corporate greed. Here are some of their accusations against him (emphasis added, citations deleted):

On May 14, 2019, the Board accepted Linzey’s resignation as Executive Director, decreeing that Linzey remain President “for now” but that he “shall be relieved of all management responsibilities” and that ”the five member committee created to manage the organization shall assume the powers otherwise exercised by an Executive Director, until the Board decides that hiring a new Executive Director is necessary.”

Instead of working to resolve grievances raised by the organizing staff, the Board member Defendants also used the May 14th resolution, that Defendant Linzey drafted, to fire all of the full-time staff organizers, revoke all of their benefits, and outsource their financial arrangements…

On October 15, 2019, Defendant Linzey filed Articles of Incorporation in the State of Washington for a new organization, the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights (CDER).

On October 24, 2019, Defendant Linzey responded to an email in which Plaintiff Schmader noted that Defendant Linzey was extorting the Board of Directors

Thomas Linzey was re-appointed as Executive Director on or about November 30. 2019 by Defendants Board members…

During and following his tenure as Executive Director, Defendant Linzey has repeatedly expressed to staff, donors. prospective donors, clients, prospective clients, and to members of the general public that CELDF is an ineffective organization and is evolving in ways of which Linzey does not personally approve. See, e.g., Ex. N, Linzey’s email to Board of Directors, page 3 (“I have begun working with our primary donors to apprise them of the immediate situation, and if it continues, will advise them that their donations are better used elsewhere. They constitute half the operating budget of this organization.”)…

Throughout the months of October and November, despite having left the position of Executive Director over five months previously, Defendant Linzey pressured the three Defendant Board members to agree to an agreement that Defendant Linzey drafted, unilaterally and arbitrarily, promising him a severance package that included a very high six figure payment that, upon information and belief, comprised 28.6% ofCELDF’s reserves, 59.6% of CELDF’s 2019 annual budget, and 71.4% of 2019 budget for staff, contractor and benefit costs (hereinafter referred to as “severance payment”)…

On November 22, 20 I 9, Defendants Belinsky, Walls, and Wells, acting in their capacities as CELDF’s Board, voted to formally to dissolve the organization. This decision was not made in the best interests of CELDF, but was a retaliatory action made to punish staff for questioning the Board’s actions

Defendant Linzey drafted the severance proposal himself and advocated for it during Board meetings, using his position and influence as President and counsel of the organization. No precedent or bylaw existing to show that an outgoing officer or director of a nonprofit should receive a share of the organization’s assets upon departure. Since the cash parachute would come from donations earmarked for specific purposes, misappropriating those funds to the CDER would violate the donative intent.

Co-founders of CELDF, like those of any nonprofit, have no proprietary claim lo the financial resources or property of the organization; for the Defendants Board members to entertain a severance package that contemplates Defendant Linzey having a stake in the organization that he resigned from six months previously violates the Defendant Board members fiduciary duties of loyalty to CELDF to avoid wasting its resources…

Defendants Board members’ stated justification for terminating the existence of CELDF was to avoid the “consequences” of denying Defendant Linzey’s demand for the aforementioned exit payment.

By terminating CELDF, Defendants Board members are freeing up CELDF’s assets. totaling more than $2,000,000, for distribution to other IRS Section 50 I (c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit corporations according to CELDF’s Articles of Incorporation.

The top candidate to receive distribution of CELDF”s assets is Defendant Linzey’s newly-founded Sect. 50l(c)(3) nonprofit, Defendant CDER.

Defendants Board members’ decision to dissolve CELDF was retaliatory, unreasonable, a capitulation to the demands of a CELDF officer who has a clear conflict of interest, and as such, this decision violates Defendant Board members’ duty of care and loyalty to CELDF…

Defendant Linzey violated his duty of loyalty to CELDF by engaging in self-dealing; using his intimacy with the Board of Directors that he had appointed and his position as President as leverage to convince the Board of Directors first to pay him the high six figure amount of severance notwithstanding the fact that the Board had accepted his resignation over six months prior and then, when this failed, by formally acting to dissolve the organization, leaving Defendant Linzey in position to take over the entirety of CELDF’s assets

To the detriment ofCELDF and in breach of the fiduciary duties he owes to CELDF, Defendant Linzey as a corporate officer of CELDF in October 2019 demanded that the CELDF Board grant him the aforementioned lopsided severance package that would cause the transfer of those monies to a new nonprofit organization that would duplicate the functions of CELDF; would subject CELDF to uncapped liability to indemnify Linzey in currently pending Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board proceedings; would redirect certain grant funds from CELDF related to a “Rights of Nature” Conference to be convened in Florida in early 2020; and would result in giving Linzey significant pieces of office equipment. Defendant Linzey further would be free to immediately begin solicitation of CELDF’s proprietary financial supporters for the benefit of his new nonprofit corporation and. upon information and belief, he has begun to do so. As of the date of this Com pl aim, Defendant Linzey remains a compensated employee of CELDF and has been reinstated as Executive Director…

Defendant Linzey threatened, if his demand for an $800,000 payment was not met, to “take the existing funders,” “help [Defendant Belinsky] sue the board,” and .. bum all of CELDF’s existing funders.” 

Defendant Linzey plainly threatened to inflict harm upon CELDF by taking CELDF’s funding and suing the organization if his demand to obtain financial gain was not met.

In an October 24, 2019 email, Linzey stated:

[I]t is in the best interests of the organization to arrive at a settlement with the organization concerning my potential departure. As long as I remain with the organization, I have a fiduciary, officer, and legal counsel duty to ensure that the organization is acting pursuant to Pennsylvania law. While I hope it does not come down to filing the lawsuit: it is the only option that Fred and Stacey have produced …. They have thus put the organization in peril; because once a lawsuit is filed: word will circulate to donors and other supporters of the unstableness (sic) of the Legal Defense Fund.”

These are only accusations, of course, but that last paragraph, purportedly from a Tom Linzey e-mail, doesn’t look good. The allegations read corporate greed, in fact. The lessons are legion, beginning with the fact it seldom makes sense to annoy former girlfriends who are still part of your operation. The biggest lessons appear to be those for municipalities and rich foundations inclined to listen to Tom Linzey and throw money at him, the CELDF or his new CDER. These accusations suggest they all run; run as fast as they can. Who wants any part of this? Don’t become captive to corporate greed is the message!

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9 thoughts on “Tom Linzey and His CELDF at War Over Corporate Greed

  1. Attorney Linzey is quoted as saying that: “And if a town goes bankrupt trying to defend one of our ordinances, well, perhaps that’s exactly what is needed to trigger a national movement.” What a slime ball…

    • That’s what Cuomo is hoping for. This cannot be beaten town by town: it should be done at the county or regional level. Forming coalitions is the only way to beat Cuomo.

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  4. First I want to point out that the Rights of Nature is not a Marxist conspiracy of some kind. On the other hand, outfits like the CELDF were and are continuing to misrepresent it for financial gain at community expense. They rely on valid fears of communities to specific environmental hazards with their reach for the moon lawsuits. There is nothing wrong with being aspirational, even with legal theories. There IS something wrong in getting clients to pay for them, knowing full well that the incremental legal groundwork has not been laid and that the lawsuit would inevitably be dismissed as frivolous. It becomes nothing but a con job. Unfortunately many communities have been ensnared in this con, under the mantle of “legal civil disobedience.” Ordinances have been adopted that could have been drafted in a much more pragmatic fashion that could have been somewhat effective. They would have been less far reaching, and would have taken into account the law as it is. I work in the area of legally challenging norms in certain communities. One always has to advise that dreams are good, but pragmatism is effective.

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