Former Nashvillian Robin Grindstaff Costa used the Maddox Foundation as her own personal expense account, pillaging the late family's estate to fund a lavish, jet-setting lifestyle. District Attorney General Torry Johnson painted that picture on Tuesday, in a massive lawsuit against Costa that accuses the beleaguered foundation director and member of the Belmont Board of Regents of illegally moving the charitable organization to Mississippi, where the Maddox family had few, if any, ties. The suit also documents a series of outrageous purchases by the foundation, bringing to mind the myriad corporate abuse scandals of the past three years.
While most press accounts have centered on Costa using the foundation's assets to purchase a pair of minor league sports teams, what may be most shocking is that she racked up huge bills on vacations and other expenses and charged them to the foundation. In 2002, the Foundation Corporation, which was spun off from the Maddox Foundation, provided for its four-person staff to attend a computer training session in Cancun, Mexico. The families of the staff were also invited on the four- to five-day trip, with the foundation covering their expenses as well.
In May of that year, Costa and the foundation's accountant attended a seminar in California, where the trustee spent most of her time shopping, according to the lawsuit. She also used funds from the Maddox Foundation Corporation to charter jets to Knoxville to catch UT football games in 2000 and 2001. Also, after she purchased the hockey team in 2002, she chartered jets to fly to games using funds directly and indirectly held by the foundation. Costa, who seemed to have an aversion to flying Southwest, also chartered a jet to fly to George W. Bush's presidential inauguration in 2001.
And there's much more. Costa used the Foundation Corporation pay for her babysitter and house sitter. She charged to the foundation home office equipment and furniture, florist charges, purchases at a pet shop and $4,000 worth of expenses at a resort and spa. The Foundation Corporation also footed the bill for the trustee to fly to the Virgin Islands; it picked up the hotel bill as well.
Finally, there's one expense that trumps them all. According to the lawsuit, foundation employees and officers went to the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, Miss., seven times in one year and charged $8,000 in expenses to the ostensibly charitable organization.
Nashville businessman Dan W. Maddox and his wife, Margaret Maddox, created the foundation that Costa now runs in 1968. According to the lawsuit, the mission of the foundation took many forms, but was clearly defined. It was established "exclusively for charitable, religious, scientific, literary, and/or educational purposes...." There's no mention of using the assets to sit at a black jack table. The trust agreement that the lawsuit says Costa clearly violated also specifies that "no part of the assets" shall benefit any private individual. Costa didn't return calls for comment.
The Maddoxes were killed in a boating accident in Louisiana in 1998. Costa, who had worked for many of Maddox's companies but is no relation to the family, became one of two directors of the foundation after their death. Nashvillian Tommye Maddox Working, the step-granddaughter of Dan Maddox, was the other director. She joined the DA's lawsuit as well. The suit seeks to force the foundation to return to Nashville, make Costa account for its expenditures and remove her from any position of authority with the organization.
In addition to a nearly endless list of seemingly indefensible purchases, the lawsuit also chronicles a tawdry sexual harassment complaint against Costa. According to the complaint, Kevin Brooks, the former general manager of the minor league hockey team the foundation purchased, had a physical relationship with Costa. The complaint also says that she later made certain promises to him regarding his employment, salary and benefits. Brooks was later fired and now claims that he was a victim of sexual harassment as well as breach of contract.