The Southern Christian Leadership Conference officials dismissed last month may have diverted at least $569,000 of the civil rights group’s money to bank accounts they controlled, according to the new board chairwoman and documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The SCLC’s former chairman, Rev. Raleigh Trammell, and former treasurer Spiver Gordon have been asked by the group’s board of directors to explain the expenditures by Friday.
Board member Art Rocker said the questionable expenditures by Trammell, in Dayton, Ohio, and Gordon, in Eutaw, Ala., could exceed the $569,000 already in question. There are at least two SCLC bank accounts set up by Gordon that the organization cannot access.
“We don’t know how much money has [gone] through there,” Rocker said.
Acting chairwoman Sylvia Tucker said some SCLC leaders first had questions about the organization’s money when a former board member alleged last summer that as much as $1.4 million of the SCLC’s money had disappeared. She said $569,000 of that has been identified and the review was continuing.
Rocker, chairman of the SCLC’s Florida chapter, said the civil rights group will file suit “against Spiver and Trammell to go after every dime.” No suit had been filed as of Thursday.
At the same time, Rocker said, the group is asking for criminal investigations into the questionable expenditures in Alabama. He said he had already talked with Alabama’s attorney general, Troy King. King’s office could not be reached for comment Thursday morning. A spokeswoman for King said the office did not confirm or comment on any pending investigations.
When contacted by the AJC, Trammell refused to discuss the allegations. Gordon did not respond to requests for a comment.
The two men were dismissed Dec. 21 for “possible mismanagement” of organizational funds, according to news accounts and documents given to the AJC. Reports published two days later quoted Trammell as saying he had not been dismissed but had stepped aside for the duration of the investigation. Gordon has not commented publicly.
Then on Dec. 28, supporters of the two men filed suit in Fulton County — where the SCLC is based — asking a court to determine whether Trammell’s and Gordon’s removals violated the SCLC’s constitution. A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Tuesday in Fulton Superior Court.
“It’s been very difficult and it’s been very sad,” said Tucker, the acting chairwoman and a minister in Virginia. “It’s just sort of unbelievable that the greatest organization in the world… would ever have to be dealing with such matters as this. We are trying to do everything correct and in the Christian way.”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. founded the organization in 1957 to coordinate protests calling for an end to public segregation and for civil rights of African-Americans. But in the decades since, the SCLC has endured scandals, legal struggles and internal dysfunction.
The board’s internal investigation into the most recent issue has just begun.
New Orleans attorney Randal Gaines, a board member, has been tasked with tracking the money. Gaines sent letters dated Jan. 5 to Trammell and Gordon, asking them to account for several expenditures within 10 days.
Memos and transcripts obtained by the AJC provide details of spending that led to the internal investigation.
The records — produced by several SCLC officials — indicate the men wrote checks to themselves, paid for funeral expenses and credit card and insurance bills, and sent money to their individual chapters and their special projects. None of those expenditures had board approval, Rocker said.
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