Leaders of a local LGBT-rights group have become mired in charges of misconduct in recent weeks as the organization's executive director and board of directors engage in vociferous infighting to claim leadership of the three-year-old organization. The reputation of the Coalition for Justice and Respect ( CJR ) has become embattled as charges and countercharges related to check fraud, forgery and embezzlement continue to mount.
CJR's recent troubles began June 25 when board members John Hickman and Billy Davis signed onto a document terminating the group's executive director, Marc Loveless. Loveless allegedly pushed and shoved Hickman after being served the termination letter and reportedly forcibly removed Hickman from the organization's South Side office. Loveless was arrested and charged with simple battery, but denied committing the crime. Hickman claimed that video surveillance footage of the incident exists and expressed his plans to place the footage, once it is secured, online. "I'm going to YouTube it," he said.
In the termination letter, Hickman and Davis enumerated their reasons for firing Loveless, which include their assertions that Lovelesswho originally denied ever being served a termination letterused CJR bank accounts for personal use; kept sparse financial records; failed to comply with CJR bylaws; maintained a "poor or improper" system of filing client information; and engaged in inappropriate or disruptive conduct. "During your time as Executive Director a host of issues have been brought to the board's attention that directly deal with your position. As these are all allegations we still feel it in our best interest to remove you from your post," the letter states.
Hickman and Davis continued by informing Loveless that local authorities may be contacted to investigate the charges of misconduct. "A General Email will be sent out on June 25th, 2010 informing our supporters of [ your firing ] . I would also like you to be aware that the Chicago Police Department may be conducting an investigation of its own as there are very serious allegations that still need to be reviewed by authorities," according to the letter.
The board of directors
But Loveless countered that Hickman and Davis lack the authority to remove him as executive director of CJR. Loveless told Windy City Times that Hickman was removed from the organization's board in October 2009 by voice vote for financial shenanigans and that Davis was removed from the group's board this past June after serving a one-year term as mandated by CJR's bylaws. A copy of the bylaws supports Loveless' claims.
However, it remains unclear when the new board of directorswhose formation would remove Davis's and Hickman's authoritywas installed. One document obtained by Windy City Times that is dated June 26 states that the new board of directors was installed May 17. An e-mail dated July 5 sent to supporters by Loveless indicates that the new board has been in operation since April and Loveless's own statements to Windy City Times note that the paperwork to install the new board was filed in June, and no documents can be produced showing the removal of Hickman or Davis as board members. As of Aug. 5 of last year, Hickman and Davis are listed with the state as board members for CJR.
Furthermore, Hickman and Davis have alleged that Loveless has stacked the board with at least one phony individual: Susan Watts. "There is no record of who this woman is," Hickman told Windy City Times. "Her address is a Brown Line train station," said Davis. The Chicago Transit Authority ( CTA ) confirmed that the address listed for Watts, which is 937 W. Diversey, is a CTA train station. Loveless responded by saying, "Anyone who has worked in the field of HIV knows who Susan Watts is," adding, "Well, that's the address she gave me."
Part of the impetus for removing Loveless as executive director, Hickman said, was a string of unpaid bills, including thousands of dollars in cell-phone bills; back rent totaling more than $20,000; and a bevy of bills from various vendors. Hickman and Davis alleged Loveless had not been diligent in settling CJR's debts. Loveless, while acknowledging some difficulty with bill payment, claimed, however, that it is Hickman who is responsible for the thousands owed in cell-phone payments and other late charges.
"Suspected fraud activity"
Hickman and Davis also alleged that Loveless began to open several bank accounts and write checks on those accounts and would then remove the funds from those accounts before the checks could clear. Loveless, however, accused Hickman of that practice and stated that he, Watts and Davis had to remove Hickman from a Shorebank account because of his fraudulent activity. Documents, however, name Loveless as the perpetrator of suspected fraud. In September 2008, Bank of America reported Loveless to a bank account information collection agency, known as ChexSystems, for "suspected fraud activity."
In January 2009, Daviswho was then listed as a board member approximately six months before his term was to have begunWatts and Loveless signed onto a document that retained Loveless "as the sole signature of the bank accounts" for CJR. Davis claimed he never signed that document and that his signature was forged. Loveless stated that Davis gave him permission to sign his name because Davis was unable to attend the meeting at which the document was signed, and that any statement to the contrary is a result of a "lapse in memory" on the part of Davis. Davis has since filed a complaint with the Chicago Police Department. ( Note: Loveless has added that several allegations are related to documents that were stolen from him, along with items such as a CTA pass. Those accused, Hickman and Davis, denied taking anything. )
Summer jobs program
Loveless' problems, however, are not occurring in a vacuum. Earlier in the year, Chicago's Youth Pride Center ( YPC ) received an award from the state of Illinois to employ youths for the summer. YPC contracted with CJR to place youths in different workplaces throughout the city and to complete the necessary paperwork for the program. Windy City Times obtained copies of e-mail communications between Loveless and a program administrator in which Loveless is told that his delays in processing paperwork would result in the removal of student workers under his care, and that the workers would now be processed by YPC.
Loveless responded with claims about YPC's ability to manage its youth and stated that YPC workers were being required to raise funds for the organization in order to secure jobs. YPC head Frank Walker, however, told Windy City Times that Loveless' accusations are baseless and that youths are only required to raise funds for out-of-town trips. Furthermore, Loveless claimed it was important that he maintain the number of youths under this care because some workers were being required to purchase cigarettes and provide money from their paychecks to transgender-rights activist Joy Morris. Morris vehemently denied Loveless' claims. Walker and Morris claimed that Loveless has engaged in smear tactics to keep as many youths as possible so that CJR can maintain an administrative fee associated with each student worker. The loss of student workers, Walker noted, means a loss of potential revenue for CJR.
The paperwork delays, however, have resulted in some individuals being paid late and others may be in danger of being dropped from the program altogether, Walker said. As a result, a number of YPC youths have pitched in to help their fellow workers. Walker told Windy City Times that after their July 2 pay date, some of YPC's students gave a portion of their paychecks to create a fund for the others who will be paid late, some of whom are facing homelessness if they cannot pay their rent. Walker promised that YPC would spend "thousands" in order to ensure that none of its students will have to live on the street.
Not all workers will be as fortunate, however. According to sources who asked not to be named, some student workers who began the program early arrived at Loveless' office June 29 with their parents and demanded to be paid. When Loveless failed to show, the office was ransacked and items were taken. At least one parent whose child was not paid has filed a complaint with the state's labor department.
Rev. Willie Barrow
In early June, CJR was to put on a benefit in honor of the Rev. Willie Barrow, a longtime Chicago ally of the LGBT community, at the Hotel Monaco. Sources familiar with the event claim that CJR collected checks in honor of Barrow, but when the event was cancelled, none of those monies were returned. Loveless, however, is emphatic about the fact that "no checks were collected." But a source close to Loveless with knowledge of the event told Windy City Times, "I saw at least one check in the amount of $150." Loveless stated he didn't recall such a donation.
At least one guest, Timothy Stewart-Winter, had flown in from the East Coast to attend. He wrote on event organizer Marc Loveless' Facebook page, "I was very surprised to arrive at the venue and discover it had been postponed with no notice whatsoever. In fact, the hotel staff explained they had 'no further information' about the reason for the postponement."
Apparently, after working an earlier event, Barrow was too tired to attend the coalition event and organizer Marc Loveless made the decision to cancel.
"The other event was on 110th Street," Loveless told Windy City Times. "We were trying to resolve the transportation matter and as you know while she was willing there was some other conversations that said that she would be only able to attend the event at 8:30 p.m."
"I became concerned that people would be disappointed not having her there for the program, and her ability over her desire for her benefit we it was decided to postponed the event. I care for Rev. Barrow enough to know that she will risk herself beyond consideration. I just couldn't have it on my conscience. I'd rather suffer the burden of cancelling then feeling I was pushing her at risk of her health."
Contributing: Blair Mishleau