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

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.

Jerry Brown visits South Los Angeles churches



Listen to Jerry Brown’s speech at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

View the slide show here.

Hot off his appearance with President Barack Obama at the University of Southern California, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown spoke from the pulpit of several South Los Angeles churches on Sunday. Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco and Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, traveled with Brown to the churches.

Over the course of the morning, Brown visited four churches in South Los Angeles and Compton. Brown used these visits as a means to encourage voter participation and to preach the Democratic platform in preparation for the midterm elections.

One of his stops, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, is the oldest African American-founded church in Los Angeles. The pastor, the Rev. John Hunter, introduced Brown with a line of implicit support.

“The Lord oftentimes anoints and moves people to offer themselves to lead and to be a part of the solution,” Hunter said before Brown took the stage.

imageBrown is no stranger to speaking to religious audiences, as he was at one time in the seminary himself. Speaking to the large congregation appeared to energize him, even though he had just been ushered into the building moments before, running late after speaking at another church.

“I know you’re going to vote,” Brown said. “I just want to remind you to vote. This is real important. If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”

Enthusiastic applause broke out after Brown said he wants to make sure everybody has the God-given right to exceed, to soar, and to go however high they can go.

Brown continued, peppering his speech with religious references, while at the same time making powerful jabs at his Republican opposition.

“With your help and God’s blessing, we’ll make it work for everybody. Not just the powerful. Not just the people who seek out Mammon. You know, the children of darkness in their own way are pretty smart, but this is the time for the children of light. Follow the light. The light that will give us the kind of illumination that will lead us to the right path.”

He made a final call to fix the schools and reform the prisons, and then was off to his next destination.

imageWard African Methodist Episcopal Church offered a smaller, but no less enthusiastic audience for Brown. His speech became folksier and he spoke on a more intimate level to the church members, who at this point were already two hours into a church service.

“Seeking and praying and serving, that’s really what we need from our people in government,” Brown said, before launching into a tirade against money-grubbing politicians.

“They’re called public servants. But we know some of those folks over there in Bell, California, were like public potentates. They were paying themselves more than the President of the United States for running a little city. I don’t know if they were running the city, they were running off with the city.”

He asked how many people have already cast their absentee ballot. When several hands shot up, Brown responded, “Well that’s good! It’s good if you voted for me! If you didn’t, it’s bad.”

The congregation laughed, and then continued to offer verbal affirmations and smatterings of applause as Brown insisted that it’s time to stop pointing fingers and to start coming together to solve problems. “At the end of the day, we’re all Californians, and we all have to live in the state.”

Outside of Ward, one church member lamented that they didn’t have a red carpet to roll out for the man he hopes will be the next governor of California.

John Frierson, another church member and long time South Los Angeles community and political activist, shook his head. “I’ve known Brown for 40 years. He’s not the kind of guy who would like a red carpet.”
Slide Show:

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