Report: Ousted SCLC members didn't take funds

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2011 6:43 PM
Report: Ousted SCLC members didn't take funds

Prosecutors in Georgia have found no proof to support a complaint that two ousted board members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference took more than $560,000 from the civil rights organization, according to a draft report.

The report on the 18-month-long investigation by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office's Public Integrity Unit into the allegations was obtained by The Associated Press. Several ousted board members, including former chairman Raleigh Trammell and ex-treasurer Spiver Gordon, are calling on District Attorney Paul Howard to release the findings to the public.

"To prove any criminal activity in this case, the investigation would have to show that the funds were clearly used for personal benefit, and not for the benefit of the SCLC," the report says. "The investigation showed that the funds were actually used for approved programs and approved travel reimbursements."

In a letter dated Sunday to their civil attorney, six former board members accuse Howard of stalling for six months and having "a politically-motivated agenda" in not releasing the findings earlier. A draft version of the report, dated last May, was provided to Thelma Wyatt Moore, a former judge who represented the board members in a civil case arising from allegations of financial mismanagement.

The six former board members also wrote Howard's office on Wednesday asking his office to release the report.

"We simply want your office to release your aforementioned findings, which you have had for many months now, and allow us to move on with our lives and ministries," the letter says.

Neither a voicemail message nor an e-mail seeking comment from Howard's office were immediately returned.

In a statement issued Wednesday, SCLC President Isaac Newton Farris Jr. said the report "concludes a fractious and unseemly chapter in our storied history."

"That door is closed as we move aggressively forward to rebrand and reinvigorate the world's most recognized and accomplished civil and human rights organization," the statement says. He added that while prosecutors found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the organization's "internal due diligence concluded that there were both ethical lapses and unethical expenditures."

Farris said he has worked to put systems in place to prevent similar situations in the future.

Howard's office was asked in January 2010 by the SCLC's general counsel to investigate the suspected unauthorized expenditures by Trammell of Dayton, Ohio, and Gordon of Eutaw, Ala. According to the report, some board members equated the expenditures to theft.

"We have known all along that the allegations that were lodged in SCLC that caused the deep divide in the organization were felonious and intentionally placed to divide and conquer the organization," said Markel Hutchins, who was removed as interim president of SCLC during a legal fight stemming from the charges.

Hutchins said the report should be released to restore the damaged reputations of the organization and the maligned members.

"It will hopefully send a message to the funders of SCLC's work that there was no financial mismanagement and that SCLC has been a good steward of the resources that have been placed with the organization," Hutchins said.

The allegations led to a deep split in the organization, as well as the ouster of Trammell, Gordon and several other board members in April 2010, and a protracted legal battle in civil court. The dispute split longtime colleagues _ some with friendships dating back to the civil rights era _ and exposed severe gaps in the organization's governance.

"We are just so disappointed that these charges were brought about by our friends and people who knew and have known the kind of contributions that we had given of our lives and our resources for more than 40 and 50 years to the organization," Trammell told The Associated Press. "It has been devastating to our character, to our families, to our future, to our deep concern for the civil rights movement."

In a separate case, Trammell pleaded not guilty last January to 51 felony charges including grand theft involving a meal program for older poor people in southwest Ohio.

The Rev. Ruby Moone, who was ousted from the executive board but not involved in the civil case, said she attempted to meet with Howard two weeks ago and to speak with him by telephone about the status of the report.

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"I did not get a conference ... I never got a telephone call," she said.

The allegations eventually drove off the Rev. Bernice King, who was poised to take the helm of the organization co-founded by her father, but declined to assume office last January amid the infighting. Farris, a nephew of the late Martin Luther King Jr., recently became president.

The report recommends that SCLC revise its bylaws to clarify duties and responsibilities of officers and staff members, and implement policies regarding financial decisions to increase transparency and accountability and prevent the potential for theft.

Hutchins said the healing process must now begin between the feuding factions of the current and former SCLC board. But Farris said reconciliation is not yet possible because of the pending litigation. The ousted board members are appealing a judge's decision regarding the leadership of the organization. The appellate court has not yet ruled on the matter.

"If they want to (reconcile), they need to drop their appeal of the suit," Farris said. "I would think that we're open in the spirit of King-ian non-violence. We're always open to reconciliation. We could not be who we claim to be and follow who we claim to follow if that were not the case."

Hutchins called those sentiments "disingenuous and downright disgusting."

"We have made a number of attempts toward reconciliation," Hutchins said.

The SCLC was founded in 1957 by civil rights leaders including King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery and Ralph David Abernathy with the goal of ending segregation and racial discrimination through non-violent direct action. The organization is headquartered in Atlanta and claims 10,000 members in local chapters and affiliates nationwide.



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