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City Is Owed Brookins Refund, Report Says

February 28, 1990|GLENN F. BUNTING and RICH CONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A city report has concluded that Los Angeles is owed about $48,000 in rent paid for space in a office complex that was secretly owned by Bishop H. H. Brookins, The Times learned Tuesday.

In addition, the Community Development Department will urge a City Council committee today to cancel an $83,000-a-year student assistance program that is run out of the Brookins building on Crenshaw Boulevard in Southwest Los Angeles, according to City Hall sources, who spoke on condition that they not be identified.

The report, which will be submitted today to the council's Community and Economic Development Committee, is the product of a three-week conflict-of-interest investigation involving Brookins' dual role as a landlord who collected rent from the city for his Crenshaw property while he served as head of South Los Angeles Development Corp. (SLADC), a 10-year-old poverty program located in the building.

Community Development Department General Manager Parker Anderson on Tuesday declined to release a copy of the report or comment on it.

But Robert Gay, a deputy to Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, who received a briefing on the report from Anderson and other Community Development officials, said, "They are going to ask for some kind of repayment by SLADC and Brookins. They are taking steps to make sure this does not occur in the future with other programs."

Gay said the officials told him that prosecutors dropped a criminal investigation of Brookins because a three-year statute of limitations for fraud had expired.

Brookins could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His attorney, J. Stanley Sanders, did not return telephone calls to his office. In an earlier interview, Brookins said he was unaware of any conflict of interest. "If that is the case, I will find a way to pay the city back," Brookins said.

The Community Development probe of alleged conflicts of interest is one of three by government agencies centering on the publicly financed refurbishment of Brookins' office building and the poverty programs housed there. City and federal authorities also are looking into a $336,000 federally funded loan Brookins used to renovate the facility.

Though Brookins has not been implicated, city officials also are investigating allegations of fraud in another city-funded job training program that leased Brookins' building for $10,000 per month after the renovation.

The Times reported on Feb. 3 that Brookins, a respected leader of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and longtime political mentor of Mayor Tom Bradley, obtained the federally funded loans through the city to improve the Crenshaw facility. Loan documents signed by Brookins indicated that the property was owned by a California African Methodist Episcopal Church corporation, but the firm never was incorporated in the state, according to the secretary of state's office.

The building was later transferred to Brookins and is now worth about $1 million, records show. City administrators said they never would have financed the renovation had they known Brookins owned the building.

Government records show that Bradley and the City Council approved the loan in 1982 despite being warned by city officials that the subsidy violated city funding policies.

Brookins repaid the principal owed on the city loan and the city forgave $46,824 in back interest in May, 1988, after the bishop missed the first 15 monthly payments. Two city administrators told The Times that they were pressured by Bradley aide William Elkins to give Brookins favorable treatment in negotiating the loan settlement. Elkins has denied intervening on the bishop's behalf.

The refurbished building was later transferred to Brookins and leased for $10,000 per month to a private firm while the struggling city program run by SLADC was moved to a dilapidated office next door.

In recent years, SLADC received about $83,000 annually from the city and a total of $832,000 since 1981 for job training and education programs, records show. About $300,000 of that went into a troubled government jobs program in which four people, including two former program employees, were convicted of theft in a payroll kickback scheme.

The bulk of the funds, however, have been allocated since 1983 to a project intended to help needy students apply for college admission and financial aid. That program also has suffered a series of management problems, ranging from inadequate documentation of services and high staff turnover to failure to pay taxes, according to Community Development Department reports.

No one answered the telephone at the program's office Tuesday afternoon. But the executive director, Ed Dixon, said in a recent interview that he knew little about the program's rental agreements or Brookins' ownership of the building. He argued that past problems should not doom an important program.

"I'm trying to move forward . . . without the skeletons of old," he said. "There is a great need for this program in the community. I believe it is a viable program (and) we are doing the things we contracted to do."

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