Wareham sober house fate uncertain after bankruptcy

By Carolyn Bick and Matthew Bernat | Apr 15, 2016
Photo by: Matthew Bernat This sober house, located at 420 Main St., operated by John Coughlin, appears to have closed in the wake of his bankruptcy declaration.

The owner of a pair of Wareham sober houses, who tried to open a third in Onset amid controversy, is under fire for not paying the employees of two shuttered Boston-area sober houses he and his father managed. And it’s now uncertain if local sober houses the pair runs are still open.

Steven Coughlin and John Coughlin are a father-son duo who run the men’s and women’s sober homes, called Gianna’s House, in Wareham. In January, John Coughlin filed for bankruptcy.

In October 2015, the Lincoln House and Strathmore house, two other sober homes under the Hopewell Recovery Services, LLC, umbrella, quietly closed without advance warning. Workers were not paid for their last month work at the homes, according to several employees and lawyer Preston Leonard.

Sober homes are places meant for drug addicts to help them recover in a caring, clean environment. The houses are not considered rehabilitation centers. Because of that, owners are barred from accepting insurance payments and patients must pay out of pocket.

Leonard said he and his clients have filed several lawsuits against both John and Steven Coughlin, in order to get the Coughlins to pay their employees. Because John Coughlin has filed for bankruptcy, though, Steven Coughlin has taken over the proceedings.

However, Leonard said, Steven Coughlin keeps appealing the judge’s order to pay the employees. This puzzles Leonard, because not only has the judge ordered that the employees be paid three times what they are owed, but the longer the legal process drags on, the more expensive it becomes for Coughlin.

“Usually, you get the judgment, and the order to pay, and that’s the end of the road,” Leonard said. “The amount of money in attorney’s fees will probably exceed the amount of wages owed.”

The wages owed are not insubstantial. Leonard estimates the 10 to 15 employees are owed wages made between $12 and $16 an hour. A woman who declined to be identified said she is owed $2,000, but was awarded a total of $6,500.  A fellow employee who wants to remain anonymous said she is owed upwards of $1,200 in wages.

As of April 15, the employee said she still hadn’t been paid. She recently called the Fair Labor Division of the Attorney Generals office for an update and was told John ignored the judges order to pay.

“It’s so unfair,” she said.

Sober houses have had a checkered past in Massachusetts, an image that some are trying to improve. Unlike rehabilitation centers for those addicted to drugs and alcohol, sober homes do not require state certification.

“Technically, they’re not regulated,” said Richard Winant, president of the Massachusetts Association of Sober Houses. “You and I could buy a house on Friday and open it as a sober house on Monday.”

Legislation is in the works to bring more oversight to sober houses. An area of healthcare that Winant described as being akin to the “wild, wild west.”

New rules would prohibit sober houses from receiving client referrals from the state unless they participate in a voluntary certification process. Often, court mandated stays in sober houses may be a condition of a sentence.

According to Winant, those cases account for 75 to 80 percent of business for sober houses. The certification process would include inspections that check for cleanliness, adequate space and the presence of properly trained employees.

Despite the reputation sober houses have garnered over the years, Winant said properly run houses are a crucial step in the recovery process.

“The ideal description is a place where people are on the same path to sober living in a supportive environment,” Winant said. “When they stay in a sober house there is a much greater chance of them achieving sobriety. A lot of research has gone into this.”

The current status of Gianni’s House is unknown at this time.

Even though John Coughlin filed for bankruptcy, he is still listed as the manager and Secretary of the Commonwealth signatory for the business, which operates both the men’s and women’s sober houses, located at 420 and 426 Main St.

Steven is listed as the business’ resident agent, but until September 2014, John Coughlin held that position.

It appears the sober house located at 420 Main St. is closed. A for sale sign is posted out front. Knocks on the door went unanswered on April 15. John Coughlin did not respond to requests for comment.

A former employee, who declined to be identified, said she is surprised the two Gianna’s House locations in Wareham were operating recently.

Though she was employed for five weeks with the company, she said she was only paid for her first week of work. After that, the Coughlins kept promising the checks would come, and made excuses as to why they weren’t yet there, she said. It came as a complete surprise that the house was closing.

“My last day of work was September 31, and I was told on that day that I probably shouldn’t come in anymore,” she said. “The men’s house had called us, and their electricity had been shut off and their phone disconnected.”

Alex Vukovic, a former employee at Strathmore House, the men’s sober house in Brighton, said that the business was literally shut down while there were still at least five clients inside. He recalled hearing from one of the last clients in the house, who claimed to have been awakened at 3 a.m. shortly before the house was closed.

“A day or two before the locks got changed, there was a kid who was living there, and John [Coughlin] came in … with a moving crew,” Vukovic said. “He wakes this kid up, and he tells this kid, ‘You are really [expletive] me up by still being here.’”

Vukovic said everything “shut down so abruptly” that a few clients ended up squatting in Strathmore House for nearly a week, because they didn’t have any other place to go.

“There was still electricity, but a lot of them relapsed,” Vukovic said.

Coughlin and Gianna’s House have been a source of controversy in the past. In 2011, Coughlin and his father rented a vacant inn from Antonio Gomes on South Boulevard, and began rehabilitating it into a sober home for addicts.

Onset residents voiced concerns over the inn’s new purpose, saying they worried how the house would affect the neighborhood. During renovations, the inn burned down in a four-alarm fire ruled an accident. No one was injured.

Comments (6)
Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 16, 2016 07:10

Some history regarding John Coughlin:


"Gianna's House president indicted in alleged Medicaid kickback scheme


By Jaime Rebhan | Oct 03, 2011


Gianna's House Inc. president John Coughlin has been charged with receiving Medicaid kickbacks following an investigation by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's office."


For more see link below:



Posted by: justin beiber | Apr 16, 2016 08:05


RE: Steven Coughlin (sic): 

Is this the same Stephen Coughlin who serves as Wareham's elected constable?

Posted by: shop247 | Apr 16, 2016 09:26

Sober housing is BIG business.  In towns like Wareham, they charge each person between $100-$150 per week, just for a bed.  They put as many people as they can into the home to maximize their profits while providing very little support for sobriety.  Sounds like these 2 made their money and are moving on.

As for JB's question, if this person is an elected official, he needs to step down.

Posted by: shop247 | Apr 16, 2016 09:29

Love Google.   He is that Stephen Coughlin.


Posted by: Lou Ken Goud | Apr 16, 2016 19:09

I was about to say "Don't these two people realize  that ripping  off medicare and Social security is the sole job of  politicians" & then I saw J Bieber's post & realized OK these guys are right on target  with the rest of our Governments elected officials ..carry on scumbags!!!  At this rate,  you should be running for state office but soon! !

Posted by: justin beiber | Apr 18, 2016 14:44


As to Shop's suggestion that Mr. Coughlin step down from his position as an elected constable, I'd like to go one step further.

He should be removed from office by the process of recall.

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