Kamala Harris files suit in scam that targeted black Southern California churches

Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court Monday, February 28, in the hopes of helping a group of California churches recoup money that was lost in an alleged scam.  image

More than 30 black churches in Southern California leased computer kiosks from Television Broadcasting Online Ltd., Urban Interfaith Network, Willie Perkins, Michael Morris, Wayne Wilson, Tanya Wilson, Balboa Capital Corp. and United Leasing Associates of America Ltd.

The kiosks were supposed to enhance the church experience for members of the congregations, but the equipment was unreliable and the churches paid high monthly fees.

“This was a cruel and hypocritical scheme,’’ said Harris.  “The perpetrators preyed on institutions of faith. Let this be a lesson to others who may look to defraud our community organizations: You will be caught and you will be held accountable.’‘

Of the 33 churches persuaded to sign leases, 24 of them are located in Los Angeles County. 

Harris’s lawsuit seeks compensation and civil penalties of more than $800,000. 

Read the official complaint here

Photo credit: Kaitlin Parker

South L.A. gets Empowered to Realize the Dream

By LaMonica Peters, executive Producer of “The Hutchinson Report” on KPFK 90.7 FM

imageThe 2nd Supervisorial District’s annual summit, “Empowered to Realize the Dream,” brought local politicians and residents together on Saturday to reflect upon the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and inspire those in attendance to continue his work here in Los Angeles.

Hosted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at USC, this community event highlighted the State of the 2nd District. The Empowerment Congress, a community-based non-profit, was founded in 1992 for the purpose of involving constituents in the governmental decision-making process with their elected officials. For nearly two decades, it has been responsible for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development and 2,800 new jobs to the 8th Council District, which includes many communities in South Los Angeles.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is the first African-American man to be elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He represents the 2.3 million people of the Second District, spanning Carson, Compton, Culver City, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lynwood, Alondra Park, Athens, Del Aire, Dominguez, East Compton, El Camino Village, Florence, Ladera Heights, Lennox, View Park, West Athens, West Carson, West Compton, Willowbrook, Wiseburn and portions of all 10 Los Angeles City Council Districts. Prior to becoming the Second District’s Supervisor, Ridley-Thomas represented the 26th District in the California State Senate.

During his address at the 2011 Annual Summit, Ridley-Thomas focused on the 2nd District’s plans and accomplishments, including:

• The new partnership with the University of California that is restoring in-patient hospital care at a new Martin Luther King, Jr. hospital;
• The adoption of Construction Career and Local Worker Hire policies at the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority to ensure 2nd District residents receive their fair share of job opportunities and economic benefits associated with public works projects;
• The adoption of the Light Rail Transit option as the locally preferred alternative for addressing the public transit needs in the Crenshaw to LAX corridor;
• The re-opening of settlement negotiations with parties to the litigation surrounding the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District in an effort to better address the sight, smell, sound and safety issues presented by this large urban oil field; and
• The pursuit of establishing Environmental Service Centers as a means of creatively building environmentally sensitive and sustainable communities.

Although Ridley-Thomas’s presentation was the featured segment of the morning and very informative, he was followed by two of the most accomplished women in California’s history. Congresswoman Karen Bass, the first African American woman in the United States to be elected as Speaker of the Assembly, was on hand to introduce the keynote speaker. The keynote speaker was Kamala Harris, the newly elected Attorney General. Harris is the first African American, the first South Asian American, and the first woman to hold this office in California.

Harris spoke of moving away from divisive ideologies and focusing on the work the people want done: equality, safe communities, protection from corporate abuse and sound leadership from elected officials. She spoke of prison reform that would find alternatives to the mass incarceration of people of color, prosecuting those who target the elderly for fraudulent activities and the tackling the gang problem in California. Harris also encouraged the audience to not allow this generation to be complacent, accepting the ills of society as the status quo, but to be willing to unite, sacrifice and ultimately, meet the challenges that we face today.

The event culminated with breakout sessions on a range of issues affecting the Los Angeles community: the child welfare system, economic development, youth empowerment, green technology, mental illness, non-profit organizations, social justice through arts, incarceration, redistricting and emergency preparedness. The workshops were facilitated by Los Angeles County officials, including Dr. Lori Glasgow, Deputy Chief of Staff for Supervisor Michael Antonovich and Richard Fajardo, Senior Deputy for Justice and Public Safety.

Next year will mark the 20th Anniversary Celebration of this community Summit. Since 2012 will also be an election year, the 2nd District Annual Summit will undoubtedly be an unmissable event. For more information about the Empowerment Congress, go to www.empowermentcongress.org or call 213-346-3246. You may also reach Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at 213-974-2222.

Candidates tour South L.A. churches before midterm elections


imageListen to the Rev. John Hunter speak about the relationship between politics and the black church.

As part of a final surge of energy before voters take to the polls on Tuesday, a group of candidates made one last round of visits to a handful of churches in South Los Angeles Sunday morning.

Last weekend Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown spoke to several congregations in South Los Angeles and Compton. This weekend saw a small entourage of candidates, including Kamala Harris and Karen Bass, making appearances at six churches with historically black congregations. Harris is running for Attorney General and Bass for Congress, representing the 33rd district. Both are Democrats.

While the Attorney General race is a dead heat between Harris and Republican Steve Cooley, according to a Field Poll released Friday, Bass is considered a shoo-in for the district. Her campaign thus far has been noticeably quiet.

At one of their stops, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, other candidates and officials could be seen seated at the two front rows of pews as well. Among them were Diane Watson, the retiring Congresswoman whose seat Bass hopes to fill; City Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; Laphonza Butler, a president at Service Employees International Union; Tom Torlakson, who is running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Curren Price, a State Assemblymember; Holly Mitchell, a State Assembly candidate; and Abel Maldonado, the current Lieutenant Governor.

Maldonado was the only Republican in the group. His opposition in the Lieutenant Governor’s race, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, attended First African Methodist Episcopal Church’s service last week with Jerry Brown.

imageTowards the beginning of the service, the Rev. John Hunter stood before his congregation and acknowledged the visitors in the audience.

“Running is a tedious process. Being a candidate for anything means you have to have endurance to continue to press your case,” he said. “And I’m excited because there are some quality individuals that are offering themselves to serve at a critical time in the life of our state and of our country, and we need godly leadership.”

The tradition of inviting candidates to visit and even speak from the pulpit of black churches goes back to the beginnings of black churches in America, said the Rev. William Monroe Campbell, pastor of Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

“In the black community, churches have been the historically preeminent vehicle for looking after the good and welfare of the community,” Campbell said earlier in the week over the phone. “As slaves, the only occasion for freedom and gathering were spiritual services, and over time, this invisible institution became the church.”

Campbell explained that the pastor was not only the leader of the church, but the principal spokesperson for the community. Because of the education required to become a pastor, these were the people who had the knowledge and exposure to mobilize large groups of people to become active in their communities.

Today, he said, there are ways of communicating outside the church. Campbell attends city council meetings and labor union gatherings, but the church, he believes, is still the focal gathering place, and the place candidates come to reach a specific audience of voters.

The Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray agrees. Murray was the pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church for 27 years. He’s now a professor of religion at the University of Southern California.

“The black preacher has learned how to walk the line between church and state with caution,” Murray said. “It’s something pastors constantly remind each other about.”

Murray said the church doors are open to candidates on both sides of the political divide. The tradition of having candidates visit the church is less about endorsing someone in particular and more about encouraging people to vote, he said.

Back at First, Hunter started to tread that perilous line Murray mentioned.

image“We’re a church. We’re a separate entity. A 501(c)(3). We can’t tell you who to vote for,” said Hunter. “But I can tell you as an individual, I voted for Kamala Harris the other day by mail. I’m excited that she’s about to become the first woman and first African American attorney general in the state of California. I’m excited. Are you excited? If you’re excited about Kamala Harris, come on and stand up on your feet and give God some praise!”

With that, members leapt to their feet and offered a huge round of applause as Harris made her way up to the pulpit.

Harris spoke briefly but eloquently from the front of the church.

“We are going to do this. And we are going to do this because we are each and all of us strong in our faith about what we can do to improve this state, to reform the criminal justice system, and to make it clear that everyone should be seen and heard and let them know that their voices matter.”

Listen to more of Harris’s speech at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

After Harris spoke, Hunter invited all of the candidates to join him at the altar as he offered a prayer for them.

“What we have are good people, seeking to do good things,” Hunter said.

He asked that the candidates be endowed with wisdom and a sense of equity and fairness. Hunter kept his prayer short, knowing that the candidates had other churches to visit. As the group filed out a side door of the church, Hunter joked, “Ushers, get their offering on the way out, would you?”

imageListen to the complete prayer over the candidates.

Outside of the church, Harris spoke about her relationship with First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“This church is the leader on so many issues about creating healthy communities. When the government does its work best is when we are collaborating with all of the leaders of a community.”

Harris mentioned a few of the church’s projects she respected, including educating people about mortgage fraud and bringing a farmers’ market to the area.

“I’m here this morning because it’s where I’ve been coming many Sundays to talk with the community, and listen to the community, and hopefully reflect the values of the community as we go forward,” Harris said.

With that, Harris hopped back in a car, off to the City of Refuge Church in Gardena.

For more photographs from the service at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, click here.

Kamala Harris opens South L.A. office

imagePhoto by Daphne Bradford

Kamala Harris was in Los Angeles on Sunday to open her L.A. field office in her bid to become the first African-American woman elected to statewide office in California. The San Francisco district attorney is running against her L.A. counterpart, Republican Steve Cooley. The candidates are polar opposites on many issues: Cooley is a veteran prosecutor who has built his reputation on fighting corruption; Harris is a reformer and has made a cornerstone of her career reducing the recidivism rate among prison inmates. Cooley supports the death penalty; Harris opposes it. (Click here for a Q&A on KALW on where Harris and Cooley stand on the death penalty). About the only issue on which they find common ground is their opposition to legalizing marijuana.

Harris’ Los Angeles office is located at 5442 Crenshaw Boulevard.