By David Ford
The former mansion once owned and abandoned by world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson is being converted into a place of worship by a local church.
The 58-acre property, abandoned and later sold by Tyson during the late 1990s, is located in Southington. The property is located on 3737 state Route 534 which is approximately 35 minutes away from Youngstown.
In 2014, Living Word Sanctuary, a protestant church led by co-pastors Mark Cohen and Nick Dejacimo, was given the property as a donation.
Ever since the property was given to the church, they have been working to turn it into a center for its worship and youth activities.
“Despite its wild history and abandonment, we believe that this location will allow us to hold our worships together and our activities and continue to grow as a church,” Cohen said.
According to a 2012 article written by The Vindicator, the first owner was Ted Vannelli, the former Trumbull County commissioner. Vannelli purchased the property in 1980.
Eventually, Vannelli was caught using county funds and the property was foreclosed upon, only to be purchased by Tyson several years later.
According to USA Today, Tyson purchased the property sometime in the late 1980s by Tyson so that he could be closer to boxing promoter and trainer Don King.
Over the course of a few years, Tyson added a basketball court, indoor swimming pool and an enclosure for his tigers to the property. Despite all of the additions he made, Tyson’s stay would prove to be short lived.
According to a 1992 article by The New York Times, Tyson was convicted of rape and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The judge suspended the last four years of his sentence, meaning he would only spend six years behind bars. Tyson spent a little less than three years of his six year sentence before being released.
After being released, Tyson ran into severe financial problems, forcing him to put the mansion on the market. It was purchased by television marketer Paul Monea in 1999 for $1.3 million.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s archives, Monea never lived in the home. In 2006, Monea attempted to sell the estate and a 43 carat golden eye diamond to a group of drug dealers from a South American cartel.
The dealers were revealed to be undercover FBI agents who arrested Monea. He later was convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Monea lost possession of the property, leaving it to sit abandoned for several years.
The property was purchased by local businessman Ron Hemelgarn in 2010 for $600,000, according to WKBN. In 2014, Hemmelgarn donated the property to Living Word Sanctuary.
Jake Hocevar, a student at Youngstown State University, and his family were recruited by the church to watch the mansion and occasionally do lawn maintenance on the property since they live next door.
“We watch the property for the church because the house has been vandalized before,” Hocevar said. “We met them when they had a Fourth of July party at the place.”
Dejacimo said the date for the opening of the mansion-turned-church is unknown, but he hopes that it will be sooner rather than later. He added that his excitement about the project and hopes that the future opening ceremony will be a success.
Church members have made contact with Tyson about potentially coming down to the opening ceremony in hopes he will join them in worship. It remains unknown if Tyson will show up or not, but according to Cohen and Dejacimo, he is aware of the event.
As of right now, there is no set date for when the opening ceremony will take place.
1980- Trumbull County Commissioner Ted Vannelli purchases the Southington property; He is eventually foreclosed upon after investigation of the illegal use of county funds to help pay for mansion construction.
Late 1980s– Boxer Mike Tyson purchased the mansion for $300,000
1992- Tyson was convicted of rape and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
1995- Tyson is released early from prison, where he would return to the property but without financial means to keep it.
1999- Tyson is forced to sell the property to Paul Monea, a television marketer, for $1.3 million.
2006- Monea is arrested by undercover FBI agents after attempting to sell a 43 carat diamond, as well as the property to a South American drug cartel. He is forced to hand the property over to the government.
2010- Businessman Ron Hemelgarn purchases the property for $600,000.
2014- Living Word Sanctuary purchases the property from Hemmelgarn