Photo by LEAH EDE
ST. ALBANS — Paul and Jane Barrenger, owners of Red Barn Storage and Warehouse, LLC., took the stand Tuesday to defend themselves against charges of fraud and theft in a suit brought by Father Daniel Lokanga in December 2011.
Lokanga had a storage container at the Red Barn when Barrenger purchased the site from former owner Albert Belval, a co-defendant.
Lokanga, a Catholic priest who for years served Holy Angels and Ascension parishes in St. Albans and Georgia, has sued the trio, claiming that items donated to him for shipment to his native Democratic Republic of Congo were taken, sold, or damaged while housed at the storage facility.
On the stand Paul Barrenger claimed he had given verbal notice to Lokanga that he would empty the storage container. “I told him he had 30 days to deal with the storage container, either sign a lease or remove the container or I would empty it,” Barrenger testified.
Barrenger also said he had never intimidated or threatened Lokanga, and that there was no written or oral agreement between the priest and Red Barn.
Eventually, Barrenger did open the container and sell items within it at a consignment shop run by the couple. Jane Barrenger testified that the value of those items was $254.
The sales ceased when he became aware Lokanga wanted the property, Paul Barrenger said.
In December 2011, a judge ordered Barrenger to allow Lokanga access to the Red Barn to gather and remove his property. During his testimony Barrenger said he allowed Lokanga and his supporters full access to the property except for boxes of confidential documents stored at the site by another customer.
Barrenger said the container was empty when Lokanga and others came to the Red Barn in January 2012 and that he had never placed any items in the container. In previous testimony, supporters of Lokanga said items in the container, such as computer equipment, had been replaced.
Three witnesses had previously testified Barrenger had told them he had taken items to the dump, making 40 trips. Barrenger claimed he had only threatened to take items to the dump. “I said I would take it to the dump. How they embellished that is their business,” he testified.
During his initial testimony, Barrenger said Lokanga was free to retrieve his property at any time. However, under cross-examination, he admitted that retrieval was possible “as long as they met certain standards.” Barrenger said he wanted a signed release from Lokanga before releasing the property. “I just wanted to say: ‘You took your container, you took your property, and we’re done,'” Barrenger testified.
When asked why he hadn’t sent written notice to Lokanga before putting his property up for sale, Barrenger replied he hadn’t believed any was necessary because, “That was so old and never dealt with.”
Having at one point gone to Holy Angels parish to look for Lokanga with Belval, Barrenger said he did not know where to send written notice. “I didn’t pay attention to where it was in St. Albans,” he testified.
Kim Gaboury, a former commercial tenant at the property, had previously testified she had witnessed Lokanga’s property being removed from the Red Barn site. The Barrengers’s attorney Chad Bonanni attempted to introduce testimony about animosity between Gaboury and the Barrengers, but the judge upheld an objection from Lokanga’s attorney Luke Richter.
Jane Barrenger testified that after Gaboury vacated the rental property display cases belonging to the Barrengers were missing.
Gaboury’s husband, Steven Gaboury, was the last witness to testify Tuesday. Gaboury claimed to have witnessed Barrenger removing a Dodge Durango from the container with a tractor.
He also testified he spent about half an hour assisting with the removal of items from the container, including luggage and bags of clothing. His initial testimony indicated he helped with clearing the container at a later date, but when asked by Bonanni during cross-examination if the alleged removal had taken place at the same time as the removal of the
Durango, he appeared to become confused.
Gaboury also testified he had witnessed the Barrengers and others sorting clothing from bags he believed had come from the container.
According to Gaboury, he told the Barrengers about Georgia Recycle, a thrift store, and suggested they donate some of the items there. Gaboury testified Jane Barrenger instructed him to take some of the items to that shop.
Jane Barrenger testified the only clothing sold at the consignment shop had come from family members and that none of the clothing was from Lokanga’s container.
She also acknowledged having placed some of Lokanga’s items in the consignment shop mistakenly. Her husband removed those items, she testified.
Tuesday was the final day of testimony in the case, and Judge Dennis Pearson promised a decision as soon as possible, after suggesting the attorneys keep post-trial filings to a minimum.