City officials on Wednesday canceled an $87,142-a-year contract with a troubled South Los Angeles education program that operates out of an office building owned by Bishop H.H. Brookins.
Responding to the findings of an investigation of Brookins and the program, a City Council committee agreed to let the contract with the South Los Angeles Development Corp. expire effective today. The nonprofit agency, which until recently was headed by Brookins, helps needy students apply for college admission and obtain financial aid.
"There is no way that this would have happened had it been any other community-based program than one that had something to do with Bishop Brookins," said Juan Walker, a financial planner who serves on the SLADC board. "And that's not right. They are making a political statement to hurt some young people. The community is ultimately going to pay for this five years from now when 100 less kids from that area go off to college."
The investigation, conducted last month by the city's Community Development Department, uncovered "major concerns" in a program that has suffered a series of management problems while receiving $832,000 in job training and education funds through the city since 1981.
The investigation also concluded that over the last eight years Brookins violated conflict-of-interest provisions in city contracts and owes the city $48,259 in rent paid to the bishop. The conflict stemmed from the bishop serving as head of the community program while "having ownership of a property in which SLADC (spent) city funds in the form of rental payments," the investigative report concluded.
Brookins' attorney, J. Stanley Sanders, characterized the city investigation as "disgraceful" and "close to slanderous."
"Clearly, (the report) is drawing legal conclusions that defame one of the most outstanding clergy in this area without any fact," Sanders told the council's Community and Economic Development Committee.
Brookins, a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and SLADC officials were aware or should have been aware that the bishop's ownership of the property constituted a conflict of interest, the city report stated. Due to the "blatant nature" of the violations, the report recommended that the city also recover interest on the $48,250 owed.
Asst. City Atty. Frank Orozco said the city will demand repayment of the rental income from Brookins, the SLADC and its Board of Directors.
Brookins said in an earlier interview that he was unaware of any conflict-of-interst and that he would pay the city back any money owed. But on Wednesday, the bishop's attorney said Brookins had no intention of repaying the city.
"I'm not going to advise Bishop Brookins to pay back a penny," Sanders said. "He is not liable for this. To return (the money) as some crumb to the political lions that want blood in these days . . . is a political concession I don't think he is going to make."
Sanders told the council committee that it would be a "gross injustice" to refer the investigation to the full council without requesting a complete report from the city attorney's office or an independent investigator. But committee members Robert Farrell and Marvin Braude decided to send the report to the City Council for discussion at its March 9 meeting.
The city investigation found that Brookins owned the building when the city approved a $336,000 renovation loan to the Southern California Conference AME Church Inc. (SCCAMEC). The property initially was supposed to be a gift to the AME church, but when the donors "reneged," Brookins acquired the property "on his own without concurrence from the church's board," the report said.
The AME church organization listed as the property owner "was neither a non-profit entity nor an entity of the AME Church as it was purported to be at the time (the) contract was executed by H.H. Brookins," the report said. "The investigation ultimately determined (the) facility was actually owned by Brookins at the time the contract was obtained through the name of SCCAMEC."
Brookins was the subject of a two-year criminal investigation by the district attorney's office before prosecutors decided to drop the case last July because the statute of limitations for fraud and embezzlement had elapsed, prosecutors said.
The CDD report also recommended further investigation into two areas involving program activities at the troubled education program. City monitors could not locate more than half of a sampling of 13 students reported to have been assisted just last month. One participant's address did not exist and another had never lived at the address indicated, according to a CDD report.