• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Former EDA member’s business sued

A former member of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority (EDA) was awarded matching grants and a loan to help start a new business after firing employees of his existing business, workers who were owed back wages. Ed Crowley stepped down from his unpaid post as the city of Midway’s EDA representative in March of 2016 after serving for about three years, according to EDA Chair John Soper. At the time, Crowley said he was moving his business headquartered in Midway, Photizo Group, to Lexington. On March 2 of this year, the Woodford County Agricultural Development Board awarded a $20,000 matching grant to Crowley’s Mill, according to Adam Probst, UK’s Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture in Woodford County. On its website, Crowley’s Mill, which is located at 104 Preston Court in Versailles but is not yet operating there, describes itself as a business that can process wool fiber “in days instead of months.” “One of the big issues we have in Central Kentucky is a lack of facilities to get wool processed for sheep processors,” Probst said of the board’s decision to award the grant. A spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy said on April 21, Crowley’s Mill was made eligible for a $245,000 loan through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund. The grants and loan draw on funds from the 1998 Master Settlement with tobacco companies in which Kentucky was given $93 million. A source with knowledge of the process said Crowley’s Mill was also awarded matching grants worth $37,000 from other county agricultural boards. With a total of $114,000 available in grant and private money, as of Tuesday, the start-up was eligible for a $131,000 loan from the state. Crowley has until Oct. 31 to secure funds from other counties, which would reduce the amount of the state loan, the source said. On Aug. 15, the state Labor Cabinet filed a lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court on behalf of the two employees fired Jan. 6 and owed back wages from Photizo Group, of which Crowley is CEO. According to the suit, Mark Dildilian was hired in November 2014 to provide “business development and sales support functions.” Tim Grahl was hired in June 2010 to provide “financial and accounting functions.” Grohl told The Sun that he was Photizo Group’s controller. State exhibits include a Jan. 6 email from Crowley to Dildilian acknowledging Dildilian was owed net back pay of $7,794.76 and proposing a monthly $1,000 repayment. A Jan. 11 email from Crowley to Grahl acknowledged net back pay of $47,992.31 and a repayment plan of $1,500 per month until July, then $1,500 every two weeks. Both were assured that if business increased, their repayment plan could be accelerated. However, on Jan. 20, Dildilian filed a complaint with the Labor Cabinet. Four days later, Grahl did the same. On May 24, the Labor Cabinet found in favor of the two employees and assessed a civil penalty of $500, which was paid. A clerk at the Fayette Circuit Court said a court date for the Labor Cabinet’s suit against Photizo Group seeking the employees’ back wages and interest has not been set. In a statement to The Sun, Grahl wrote, “As for Crowley’s Mill, it causes the former employees of Photizo Group, who are owed back wages, to be speechless. On one hand, the State of Kentucky Labor Cabinet is suing his company for unpaid back wages. … ” In a brief interview with The Sun, Crowley was asked about devoting resources to a new business when his present company still owed former employees back wages. “As CEO of the company (Photizo), I certainly feel a responsibility to past employees. … But also, I have certain responsibilities to the corporation itself, and that’s what I’ve focused on filling,” Crowley said. Grahl wrote that eight out-of-state Photizo employees who can’t be parties to the state Labor Cabinet lawsuit are owed back wages totaling $270,000, and ended his statement this way: “Does Edward Crowley have a conscience?” Asked Tuesday about Grahl’s claim that he owes 270,000 to the out-of-state employees, Crowley said he was not going to respond to that allegation, adding, “Tim has an axe to grind.”

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