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Joe Luginbill goes MIA, leaves Eau Claire organizations in the dark wondering what’s next

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Luginbill Xcel bill
Photo shows money owed to Xcel Energy
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Photo shows the Luginbill Foundation website is not functioning.
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Luginbill's public Facebook page is also down.

Eau Claire (WQOW) - The heat is turned off at the State Theatre and work on the Smile House has halted as people point to lack of payments from the Luginbill Children's Foundation run by Joe Luginbill.

Now, News 18 is hearing from those impacted as they search for answers.

It appears any sign of the foundation's creator was wiped away online over the weekend.

The Luginbill Foundation website and phone no longer work and any sign of the foundation on social media has been taken down.

News 18 made numerous attempts to contact Luginbill on Monday. Our reporter even went to the home listed as the address for the Luginbill Foundation on the IRS website but nobody answered the door.

At the State Theatre, where Luginbill served as the CEO, power, heat and water have all been shut off.

Documents obtained by News 18 (see picture above) show Xcel Energy was owed nearly $21,000 when the lights were shut off.

That forced the LGBTQ+ Community Center to move out of the State Theatre and sever ties with the organization.

"There was a lot we were really hoping to do here," said Daniel Bennett-Hardy, vice president of the organization. "There was such a great space and great opportunity and there was so much potential. It's just hard to know that we don't have that opportunity anymore."

The lack of communication and funding has also halted work at the Smile House, one of the Luginbill Foundation's latest endeavors which was meant to serve as a transitional living program for adults 18 to 24 who were previously in foster care.

The Smile House project lead Sarah Strunk told News 18 she hasn't heard from Luginbill in a week and never received money for the project.

"People's livelihood is on the line," Strunk said. "The way people make money and make income, the safe space for these LGBTQ youth to come and have stability is gone. The safe space for these kids aging out of foster care to go and have that promise is gone."

Azara Properties, which owns the State Theatre, released a statement saying the Luginbill Foundation was responsible for paying utilities and rent. Officials said they have tried to contact Luginbill about the defaulted payments but have been unsuccessful. They are now working with those impacted to resolve the issues.

"The news of the situation at the State Theatre came as a shock to us, as we learned about it through the newspaper Saturday morning. We have been trying to contact Joe Luginbill regarding money defaulted by the Luginbill Children's Foundation to Azara Properties. It is the Luginbill Children's Foundation's responsibility as the lessee to pay for all utilities and rent. Azara Properties has reached out to the organizations affected by the foundation's defaults and are trying to resolve the issues so they can continue operating. The theatre will remain open under Azara Properties and we are looking forward to a brighter future for the State Theatre."

Amanda Schemenauer, Azara Properties Representative

Chippewa Valley Youth Chorus claims the Luginbill Foundation also failed to file needed insurance paperwork to allow them to rehearse at Flynn Elementary. They have since made other arrangements.

I would like to take a moment to clarify CVYC's involvement with the Luginbill Children's Foundation as there has been...

Posted by Chippewa Valley Youth Chorus on Sunday, January 26, 2020

We have also learned Eau Claire County Board member Zoe Roberts has cut ties with Luginbill who had been serving as the treasurer on her campaign.

Folks, I'm being asked for a statement in lieu of recent events, so this is it: "Due to recent events, I am replacing...

Posted by Zoe Roberts for Eau Claire on Monday, January 27, 2020

IRS data shows the Luginbill Foundation was named a tax-exempt non-profit in 2018 but the most recent report shows it has failed to file a 990 form which is required to show how a non-profit is spending its money.

Back in late October, Luginbill surprised many by announcing he was giving up his seat on the Eau Claire School Board.

Jess Langlois

Jess Langlois is the weekend meteorologist and weekday multi-media journalist for News 18. She joined us in July of 2019.

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