State Rep. Tyrone Brooks Indicted for Misuse of Charitable Funds

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(APN) ATLANTA — State Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), a long-time champion of progressive causes and veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, has been indicted for misuse of charitable funds in connection with the Georgia Association for Black Elected Officials (GABEO), and what is described as a “sister organization” of GABEO, Universal Humanities.

“This is a disappointing day.  Representative Brooks has done much good in his life, both as a state legislator and civil rights leader.  But the indictment charges that over many years, Representative Brooks misappropriated nearly $1 million in charitable donations intended to provide literacy training in underserved communities, and from GABEO—the organization for which he has served as president since 1993.  Sadly, by diverting these funds to his own use, Representative Brooks deprived those most in need of critical assistance,” the US Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

The indictment charges some thirty counts of mail, wire, and tax fraud.  The mail and wire fraud charges carry a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison and a fine of up to 250,000 dollars. The tax charges carry a maximum sentence of three years and a fine of up to 100,000 dollars.  

The sentences imposed may not approach the statutory maximum sentences, the US Attorney’s Office noted, as the court would consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, if Brooks were to be convicted.

Rep. Brooks, when reached by phone, told Atlanta Progressive News he will be holding a press conference with former Gov. Roy Barnes (D), who is providing legal representation for Brooks, this Thursday afternoon, at Barnes’s law office in Marietta.

GABEO is a statewide organization for Black elected officials that holds numerous conferences across the state each year; hosts regular press conferences; and has participated in dozens, if not hundreds, of advocacy efforts, including, most notably, the annual Moore’s Ford Bridge reenactment.

GABEO was formed in 1970, and Brooks served as President of GABEO since 1993.

Universal Humanities was incorporated in Georgia in 1990 and is a federally tax exempt organization.

According to its website, Brooks serves as President.  

“Universal Humanities Inc. serves as the non-profit, non-partisan sister organization to the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials (GABEO).  While GABEO addresses political, legislative and policy related issues, Universal Humanities Inc. works toward community empowerment through localized grassroots community organizing with the full support and endorsement of GABEO and through partnerships with like-minded community and faith-based organizations,” the website states.

Activist Joe Beasley, another veteran of the Civil Rights Movement who serves as Southeast Regional Director of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is listed as Vice Chair, but tells APN that he had no knowledge ot if.

“Evidently this is something Mr. Brooks has knowledge of.  I have no knowledge of the works of Universal Humanities.  I never attended a meeting.  I have no information that would benefit you or anybody else,” Beasley said.

“I heard of Universal Humanities years ago, I heard Tyrone talk about it.  As far as what Universal Humanities is doing or has done, I have no knowledge,” Beasley said.

“This a very serious accusation.  There’s nothing I could add that could be productive to the discussion… it’s very tragic in many ways,” Beasley said.

Brooks began his career in public service at the age of fifteen when he began working as a volunteer with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  He was hired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on a full-time basis in 1967; and during his nineteen years with the organization, he held five full-time and several volunteer positions, according to the GABEO website.

According to the GABEO website, Brooks has been arrested and jailed 65 times for civil disobedience in the course of protests and demonstrations, and for other civil rights work.

Members of the public are reminded that the indictment contains only allegations.  A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial,” US Attorney’s Office also emphasized.

The indictment, United States of America v. Tyrone Brooks, Sr., a copy of which was obtained by APN, alleges Brooks misappropriated funds from both organizations.

As for Universal Humanities (UH), the indictment charges that Brooks “knowingly and willfully devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and obtain money and property from donors and intended beneficiaries of Universal Humanities, purportedly a charitable organization, by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises, that is, BROOKS solicited and obtained monetary donations from companies and individuals by falsely representing that the funds would be used by Universal Humanities for charitable purposes, when, in fact, BROOKS diverted donations for his personal use without the donors’ knowledge and consent.”

The indictment states none of the purported members of the Board of Directors knew they were members, and that some had never heard of UH.  This is consistent with Mr. Beasley’s statements to APN about his purported role as Vice Chair of UH.

Brooks used a pamphlet regarding a purported program called Visions of Literacy to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate donors, churches, and individual donors in order to run a literacy program in twelve Georgia counties, that was to expand statewide, according to the indictment.

However, UH never operated a Visions of Literacy Program, the indictment states.  Instead, there was a Visions of Literacy Program, operated by the former Mayor of Keysville, Georgia, which disbanded in 2005. [Incidentally, as a State legislator, Brooks was instrumental in bringing about the incorporation of Keysville as a municipality.]

Brooks transferred some 780,000 dollars into his personal account, then spent most, if not all, of the money on a variety of personal expenses, the indictment alleges.

In October 2010, Brooks filed a Form 990 for three back years for UH, with the IRS, in an effort to regain the organization’s lapsed tax exempt status.  Brooks claimed total expenses of 8,900 dollars for UH each year.  The forms were rejected due to missing pages.

One year later, Brooks filed an amended form that, instead, falsely claimed nearly 200,000 dollars in expenses for UH for the same tax years for printing, publications, charitable donations, commemorative events, fundraising, and conferences, according to the indictment.

GABEO’s Board of Directors, meanwhile was unaware of Brooks’s representations relating to GABEO and its partnership with UH.

Brooks spent donations to UH on “home repairs, a lawn service, food, dry cleaning, cable television, car repairs for his family’s vehicles, personal credit card bills, credit card bills for an account he opened in Universal Humanities name and other personal expenses… also… to pay his personal credit cards, which included personal charges for himself and his family.  Likewise, the Universal Humanities’ credit card showed charges for video rentals, cable television, electronic equipment, jewelry, clothing, shoes, and other expenses inconsistent with BROOKS’ false representations to donors about Universal Humanities’ purported charitable activities,” according to the indictment.

Coca Cola donated around 400,000 to UH over several years, but declined in January 2011 because Rep. Brooks had allowed the organization’s tax exempt status to lapse.  

The timing of things suggests that UH’s 2011 application for restoration of tax exempt status to the Internal Revenue Service may have prompted some investigation.  The indictment notes that the application included references to what were said to be newly adopted by-laws; however, the by-laws were not adopted because the Board did not exist.

“During this same period, Coca Cola received between approximately 1,500 to 6,000 applications yearly from charitable organizations, seeking contributions from the company for various community-based programs, including literacy programs.  BROOKS’ improper diversion of the charitable funds that he received on Universal Humanities’ behalf prevented Coca Cola from awarding these funds to other legitimate charities seeking support for their work in the community or benefitting those persons in need of literacy training or other assistance,” the indictment states.

Other donations to UH included 140,000 dollars from Georgia Pacific; and 240,000 from Northside Hospital.

Meanwhile, the indictment makes similar allegations regarding Brooks in relation to GABEO.

At the time Brooks became President of GABEO, the organization already had a bank account, but he soon opened a second bank account for GABEO without knowledge or consent of the Board, with his PO Box as the address, and himself as the only signatory on the account, according to the indictment.

He then went on to deposit various GABEO revenue, including membership dues and donations, into the second account, and converted the funds for personal expenditures, according to the indictment.

Members of GABEO’s Board noted the perceived loss of corporate contributions to GABEO after Brooks opened the second account; however, the contributions were, in fact, being made, but without Board knowledge, according to the indictment.

Brooks also took out two bank loans on behalf of GABEO, but without the knowledge or consent of its Board, and then spent much of the funding on personal expenses, according to the indictment.

Some 300,000 dollars went through the second account, the indictment states.  This included nearly 100,000 from Coca Cola, and smaller amounts from Georgia Power, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and others.

Some of the funds did go to pay for GABEO conference related expenditures, but most of it did not, the indictment states.

Earlier this year, when it became known that Rep. Brooks was under investigation, a number of Black state legislators and civil rights leaders gathered to hold a press conference for Rep. Brooks, on February 13, 2013.

“This is an attack on the Civil Rights Movement,” Charles Steele, President Emeritus and CEO of the SCLC, said in a statement at the time.

“Dr. King was coming to Moore’s Ford Bridge to demonstrate the day he was assassinated and Tyrone has been fearless and relentless in pursuit of justice in that scandalous lynching.  We strongly support Tyrone’s efforts.  He is a veteran civil rights warrior and a valued member of the SCLC family.  We view this as an attempt by the federal government to intimidate Rep. Brooks and other freedom fighters,” Steele said.

Clyde Bradley produced a video of the astonishingly moving February 2013 press conference, that has been published on APN’s video section here:

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/interspire/february-2013-press-conference-in-defense-of-state-rep-tyrone-brooks-(d-atlanta).html

(END/2013)

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