Some executive committee members and officers of the Philadelphia NAACP branch are questioning how long-time chapter president J. Whyatt Mondesire has handled the branch’s finances and they are asking officials from the NAACP’s national branch to intervene and examine the local group’s books.
The concerns focus in particular on the relationship between the local NAACP branch and a long-defunct nonprofit called Next Generation CDC, also headed by Mondesire, which has served as a financial arm of the local NAACP. The CDC has had financial troubles of its own, including back taxes owed.
In early December, a letter was sent to Mondesire from the local NAACP’s executive committee enumerating 22 distinct questions for Mondesire. Among them: “Who controls the Next Generation CDC? … Who are the board members of the Next Generation CDC? … Why does the Next Generation CDC collect money that is earmarked for the Philadelphia NAACP [local branch]?”
The letter (included below), on NAACP letterhead, contains no signatures but states it was submitted by “unanimous vote of the NAACP #2346 Executive Committee.” Below that is the typewritten name of NAACP Assistant Secretary Rev. Elisha B. Morris.
Rev. Morris, who was first elected branch assistant secretary in 2004, verified the letter’s authenticity and said that it had been sent to Mondesire after a unanimous vote by the attendees of a November meeting of the local branch. The branch’s local first secretary, Rochelle Bilal, did not return calls for comment.
Threats, criticism and false accusations
The local branch has also filed a separate formal letter and petition with the national NAACP organization asking it to step in and audit the local group’s finances.
The strongly worded letter, signed by three longtime officers of the group—restaurateur Sidney Booker, longtime political operative Donald “Ducky” Birts, and Rev. Morris—refers to “threats, criticism and false accusations” leveled against members of the group’s executive committee and implies that Mondesire has overstepped in his role as chapter president:
“There is no excuse for those who serve only to create their own fiefdoms,” the letter says, “reigning as if the Philadelphia NAACP and all of its assets belongs to them.”
“We are… asking that the National Office immediately take control of the Philadelphia branch, [and] conduct an internal investigation and audit of our financial records,” the letter states.
The accompanying petition bears the additional signatures of more than twenty NAACP members.
Mondesire, reached by phone this week, declined to comment. And other members of the local NAACP contacted also declined to comment or confirm these details, appearing reluctant to bring an internal dispute to the public light.
But Rev. Gill Ford, director of chapter administration for the national NAACP, acknowledges having received the letter requesting intervention by the national NAACP. His organization, he says, is still reviewing the request.
Ford downplayed the significance of the letter, characterizing the apparent rift as an interpersonal conflict between “people who were friends and now not getting along” on the one hand, and seemingly defending Mondesire’s role in any trouble on the other: “If there’s an issue with finances,” he said, “they should talk to their own treasurer.”
Next Generation CDC
But the implications of the questions being raised seem to go far beyond personal grievance and point to a relationship between the local NAACP branch and another nonprofit in which Mondesire’s role is prominent—the Next Generation CDC.
Exactly what the Next Generation Community Development Corporation is at this point in time isn’t clear. The organization was founded as a nonprofit in 1999, a few years after Mondesire was elected president of the local NAACP chapter. Federal tax documents list Mondesire as the president of Next Generation as well.
Rev. Morris, who was at one point listed as a board member of Next Generation—and whose name appears first on the petition asking national NAACP officials to audit the local branch’s books—says that he was recruited by Mondesire and that his understanding was that the organization was meant to be a financial arm of the local NAACP branch.
“My understanding was that it was a nonprofit put together by Jerry [Mondesire] so that [donors] could get a write-off directly from the Philadelphia branch.… Jerry wanted to keep the money local,” Morris explained. (Local NAACP branches are not independent nonprofits, but members of the national nonprofit organization. For that reason, donations to local chapters usually have to go through the national office.)
Morris was brought onto the Next Generation board in 2005 but says that the board “never had any meetings, never voted.… I certainly was never informed as to how money was being spent.”
“In honesty, [Mondesire] was my friend, and I thought everything was good and didn’t question it,” Morris said. “And in hindsight that was a mistake.”
Morris, and presumably the signatories of the letters to Mondesire and the national NAACP, say that they believe that money meant for the local branch of the NAACP—proceeds of fundraisers, grants, etc.—has for years been passing first through the Next Generation CDC, under the supervision of Mondesire, with little scrutiny and little reporting to branch members (Question #6: “Checks… [are] being cashed and then a Next Generation CDC check is written and given to the NAAP”).
AxisPhilly could not confirm this financial relationship, but the two organizations have been closely tied. A 1999 press release from the local NAACP chapter describes the organization as “an affiliate of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP [which] handles the branch’s economic development programs.”
Reason for scrutiny
But the fact that any relationship exists at all may be reason for scrutiny—on paper, the Next Generation CDC ceased to exist long ago.
Morris did not know until he was informed by AxisPhilly that the Next Generation CDC has been defunct as a nonprofit organization for nearly 10 years.
Next Generation CDC itself hasn’t filed required annual tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service since 2005. It isn’t listed in a state database of active nonprofits. The organization has no website, no apparent phone number, and has left virtually no trace of its existence on the Web.
It has appeared only briefly in news accounts in the 15 years since it was founded. A 2005 article by Daily News gossip columnist Dan Gross suggested that Mondesire was considering moving into a house on Phil Ellena street “owned by his Next Generation CDC.”
The nonprofit briefly reappeared in the public light again in 2010, when a grand jury report led the state’s attorney general to charge a Philadelphia woman, Harriet Garrett, and her daughter with misappropriating hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars from a state contract via a different nonprofit, Creative Urban Educational Systems (C.U.E.S.), with close ties to Next Generation CDC. Garrett had been the treasurer of Next Generation CDC, which initially had been awarded the contract, and Mondesire had been a board member of C.U.E.S.
It was around this time that Next Generation stopped filing federal tax forms. In 2010, the state of Pennsylvania officially revoked its nonprofit designation in state databases.
But the organization still has several properties under its name, several of which have close ties to Mondesire himself.
According to city records and old tax filings, Next Generation CDC owns five properties in Philadelphia, three of which were sold to Next Generation by the city’s Redevelopment Authority for the nominal price of $1 each.
Among them: 1619 Cecil B. Moore Ave.—the headquarters of the local NAACP branch (which the letter to Mondesire claims has been without heat).
Another is 213 Phil Ellena St., in which Mondesire appears to have lived himself at least for some time. A 2006 lawsuit over voting rights issues lists as a plaintiff Mondesire, “who resides at 213 E. Phil Ellena.”
The defunct CDC also owns 6661 Germantown Ave., the building which houses the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, a (for-profit) newspaper owned and published by Mondesire. (Among the outstanding debts listed Next Generation’s decade-old tax filings is a $3,000 loan to the Philadelphia Sunday Sun).
Two of these properties, still under the title of the defunct CDC, have enjoyed considerable tax breaks under city laws exempting nonprofit organizations from real estate taxes.
Michael Piper of the city’s Office of Property Assessment said that the properties had enjoyed a tax exemption for nonprofit status, but that the city was re-examining that exemption status since AxisPhilly brought the nonprofit’s status to the office’s attention. City spokesman Mark McDonald points out that the city has adopted a new rule that goes into effect next year, which requires nonprofits to prove their nonprofit status upfront.
Delinquent real-estate taxes
Taxes indeed seem to have been a problem for the ghost nonprofit entity. It’s been sued a half-dozen times in the years since it stopped filing tax forms, in some cases for delinquent gas service claims, all of which were eventually satisfied.
In October, the city moved to foreclose on 6661 Germantown Ave., the property which houses Mondesire’s Sunday Sun, for over $13,000 in delinquent real-estate tax payments. The property was scheduled for sheriff sale, but was “stayed,” or removed from the sale, at the last minute. The city’s law department says a private party paid off the debt.
Rev. Morris says that he believes that money meant for the local branch has nonetheless still been passing through Next Generation, under the oversight of Mondesire.
“It’s obvious that, according to the past two treasurers, the CDC gets the money that comes for NAACP Philadelphia branch and deposits them in the CDC account. Then Jerry will issue a check from the CDC to the NAACP,” said Morris. “But we never know how much the original check is.”
NAACP current treasurer Theresa Spotwood could not be reached for comment and former treasurer Jennifer Whitfield declined to comment.
Morris, who initially declined to comment for the story, says that revelations about the nonprofit’s defunct status and property ownership history changed his mind.
“I allowed my name to be put on that board,” he says, referring to the Next Generation CDC, “and I didn’t ask questions that I should have about what we were doing,” he said. “But this is public business now. People had better tell the truth.”
The Philadelphia NAACP website, updated just a week or two ago, features a new list of its officers, in which Morris’ name is removed, along with that of Sidney Booker and Ducky Birts, all longtime members who signed the petition asking for intervention from the national organization.
Morris says all three still serve as officers; the removal of their names, he says, is “very interesting.”
National NAACP branch director Gill Ford, who says he expects to come to Philadelphia to talk with local NAACP members, says he was unaware of any connection between the NAACP’s national office and the Next Generation CDC, the entity of which so many of the questions put to Mondesire were the focus.
“I’ve never even heard of it,” he said.