WASHINGTON — A Virginia man who pleaded guilty to joining the Jan. 6 insurrection notified a judge this week that he’d completed his court-ordered community service: He spent his 60 hours reviewing “educational” materials on topics like “American Government” and “Civics” through a website that offers online community service, for a fee.
Edward Hemenway pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for illegally parading at the US Capitol. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail plus community service. His lawyer filed a letter on Tuesday from an organization called Logan Social Services certifying that Hemenway performed his service by reading “training materials” about “Anger Management, Civics, Drug and Alcohol Awareness, Parenting and American Government” and providing “structured feedback.” The organization explained that it generally uses this feedback to “improve” online courses that it provides to people facing court-ordered education requirements, also for a fee.
Hemenway’s codefendant and cousin Robert Bauer, who received the same sentence, also confirmed to the court that he’d finished his 60 hours of service. Bauer appeared to take a more traditional route, attaching a letter from the public works department in his hometown of Cave City, Kentucky, that he’d performed “general labor.”
Hemenway and Bauer’s case offered a rare look at how people who have pleaded guilty to storming the Capitol are carrying out judges’ orders to give back to their communities, beyond any jail time or probation. It’s unusual to see records of what they’ve done filed on the public docket so far. Last month, a federal judge in a different Jan. 6 case denied a request by a coalition of media outlets (including BuzzFeed News) to release community service records for defendant Anna Morgan-Lloyd, finding they weren’t covered by the general right of access to judicial records.
Hemenway’s letter also shed light on the operations of websites that advertise alternative options for court-ordered community service. It’s an arrangement that some courts and volunteer programs across the country refuse to allow.
Logan Social Services describes itself as “the online solution to your community service needs.” Courts and probation officers usually direct defendants to locally based nonprofits where they can work to fulfill their hours. Logan Social Services pitches that its online program “truly helps your community” because the course materials that participants review and offer “insights” on are widely available, including wherever a person lives.
The organization runs a collection of websites that advertise online coursework to people required to take classes on subjects like parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, anger management, driving, domestic violence, shoplifting, and sexual harassment. Each website lists prices that people pay to complete the program and receive a certification letter. Logan Social Services is affiliated with a church that has nonprofit status but doesn’t feature religious content on its sites.
According to the community service program’s website, participants choose courses to review, and the site tracks the time they spend on the site. The cost of the program is based on the number of community service hours needed; for 51 to 75 hours, the range that would cover Hemenway’s sentence, the cost is $109.95. A phone number listed for Logan Social Services redirects to a recorded message that describes its hourly classes as “free” but then notes that participants pay for the letter they’ll need to show a judge or a probation officer confirming they did their hours.
There are nonprofits that offer virtual volunteering opportunities, especially during the pandemic. But a host of local court systems across the country advise on their websites that they won’t accept online service to fulfill court-ordered obligations. A review by BuzzFeed News found examples of these warnings in Parker, Colorado; Will County, Illinois; Grays Harbor County, Washington; and Kirkland, Washington. In 2015, the attorney general of Washington sued to shut down Terra Research Foundation, a company that had marketed online community service for a fee. The state claimed the company falsely represented to the public that the hours would be accepted by courts and also falsely represented having nonprofit status; the case settled via a consent decree, according to court records.
A handful of court websites specifically mention Logan Social Services. The website for the Cobb County, Georgia, court system lists the organization as one of the programs it won’t accept certifications from, stating in all caps: “YOU CAN NOT DO COMMUNITY SERVICE ONLINE” and “YOU CAN NOT PAY FOR YOUR COMMUNITY SERVICE.” It’s also barred by the local court system in Marietta, Georgia.
The University of Colorado Boulder’s Volunteer Resource Center includes Logan Social Services on its list of programs that aren’t approved for students who are ordered to do community service, citing an agreement with the Boulder Municipal Court. A representative of the center didn’t return a request for comment. Court administrator James Cho said he’d never heard of Logan Social Services and didn’t know what agreement the university’s website referred to. Cho also said he couldn’t recall a case where a defendant wanted approval for a community service program that charged a fee.
“We certainly don't want to create another barrier to get something like that done,” he said. "I know paying money out of pocket would create an obstacle."
Logan Social Services’ executive director William Smith, who signed Hemenway’s letter, responded to emailed questions. He confirmed that Hemenway paid the fee listed online. He wrote that the money paid by clients went toward “advertising, site upkeep and materials” and compared it to people paying for goods at a Goodwill store (some Goodwill branches allow people to complete court-ordered community service, but don’t appear to charge fees).
Hemenway’s certification letter stated that the services he provided were “educational in nature, with a labor component, and provide ongoing value to the community and the client through self-improvement.” Asked about the “labor component,” Smith wrote that was a reference to the work clients perform as “teaching assistants” reviewing materials for Logan Social Services’ other pay-to-certify course offerings.
“For example, they might share a personal story about anger management, and I can then use it in my anger courses on other sites, if I find it appropriate and helpful,” Smith wrote.
Hemenway’s lawyer declined to comment and declined an interview request on his behalf. A representative of the probation office for the US District Court for the District of Columbia declined to discuss specific cases or organizations, but said that in general, defendants had to get advance approval for their community service plans.
Logan Social Services’ website states that its program is accepted by courts and employers “in most cases” but notes that it doesn’t guarantee it. The site encourages potential clients to get permission before starting the program and makes clear that it won’t provide refunds if a court or probation office rejects it later.
Samples of the materials for the community service program aren’t available without registering. But Smith provided a copy of the “American Government” course that Hemenway’s letter referenced over email. It’s a grade-school-style text that describes basic structures of the US political system; Smith said it’s missing diagrams that would appear online.
Logan Social Services promotes itself as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. A public records search showed the organization is affiliated with a church, Full Gospel of Christ Fellowship Inc. Smith wrote that although it falls under the church’s nonprofit registration, it's a “secular social services agency”; the organization’s websites don’t mention the church and don’t feature religious content. He wrote that Logan Social Services has provided online community service programs for 12 years and served more than 100,000 clients.
“I would say that our program isn’t for everyone, but it does fill a need. We have many physically challenged clients who can’t find a place where they can go and do their work requirement. Also, for example, there are clients who have committed certain crimes where you wouldn’t want they restocking books at the public library,” Smith wrote. “Finally, Covid has seriously reduced the work opportunities available, and many clients report our services have been a big help to them.”