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It was just before the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP’s 2013 annual gala dinner, the group’s biggest fundraising event, and Sidney Booker wanted to help out.
Booker, a longtime NAACP member and well-known entrepreneur and leader in the city’s African-American political community, was happy to pay a little more than the usual $120 ticket price.
He cut a $500 check, written out to “NAACP Philadelphia,” with a memo noting “Gala Contribution,” and handed it personally, he says, to Jerome Whyatt Mondesire, longtime president of the NAACP Philadelphia branch, expecting Mondesire to deposit the check in the bank account designated for the group’s annual gala.
But the check didn’t get there.
Instead, Booker says, it was deposited into a bank account in the name of the Next Generation Community Development Corporation, an organization which Mondesire founded in 1999 with himself as president, and which NAACP leaders say he has controlled for years.
Originally a 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization, the Next Generation CDC has been officially defunct since at least 2010, when its tax-exempt status was stripped by the IRS; it has not filed federal disclosure forms required of nonprofits since 2004.
How Booker’s check, and at least one other, written out for $10,000 to the local NAACP branch for a youth scholarship program, came to be deposited into the bank account of another organization are questions that go to the heart of complaints by Booker and other local NAACP board members, who allege that Mondesire has diverted funds meant for the organization and hidden money from it.
New documents, some of them provided to AxisPhilly by Booker, his attorney and other NAACP members, seem to bolster the claim that funds meant for the NAACP have at least passed through the defunct nonprofit organization.
They include bank statements documenting the deposit of Booker’s check into the Next Generation account. They show as well that another check from a casino venture, written out to the NAACP for $10,000, was also deposited in the same account. The check, from Market Associates L.P., was written two months before Mondesire publicly endorsed the company in its bid for the city’s second casino license.
All this was done without the knowledge or consent of other NAACP members, say Booker and two other elected officers—Donald “Ducky” Birts and Rev. Elisha B. Morris—who have been calling for an investigation.
The checks, says Gerald Egan who, along with attorney Isaac Green, is representing the men, are proof that their claims require action.
“Words are cheap,” says Egan, referring to public statements by Mondesire ridiculing these claims, “but these checks speak louder than any words. This is money that was meant to go to the NAACP, clear as day, and it went somewhere else… to a bank account owned by Mondesire.”
Below: Copies of checks and deposit slip sent to Booker by PNC Bank. Bank account numbers and other personal information have been redacted.
Mondesire did not respond to requests for comment for this story; he has largely declined to speak to the media since AxisPhilly first published details of the dispute between the local president and members of the local NAACP branch.
But he has publicly denied that funds meant for the NAACP had been diverted in any significant way. In January, he told the Philadelphia Tribune that little money meant for the local NAACP went to Next Generation, which he characterized as a way for donors to get a tax write-off. While the national NAACP is a nonprofit organization, local chapters are not and contributions made to them cannot be deducted as a charitable donation.
“Have people given checks to that organization in order to get a tax write-off from the NAACP? A few did, over the years,” Mondesire told the Tribune in January. “But no large sums of money. No.”
But the documents reviewed by AxisPhilly suggest that at least two contributions made to the Philadelphia NAACP, one of them large, ended up in the Next Generation’s bank account, years after it lost its tax-exempt status in 2010.
The NAACP members questioning Mondesire’s leadership say these documents vindicate issues they first raised last December, when several members of the group’s executive committee sent Mondesire a list of questions about the organizations finances, as well as a petition asking the national office of the NAACP to intervene and to audit the branch’s finances. Later, the dissenting members held a meeting to distribute those questions to local NAACP members as well as the news media.
It was after that January meeting that Booker, who knew his $500 check had been cashed, learned that his name had not appeared on a list detailing contributors to the group’s 2013 gala that was distributed to NAACP members.
“I’m looking at the list, and I said, ‘Where’s that check I wrote?’”
Booker contacted his bank, PNC, to find out who had cashed the check.
The bank sent back a copy of his check along with a copy of a deposit slip showing that the check had been deposited the following day into the account for Next Generation CDC, not to any of the four accounts maintained by the NAACP.
The same deposit slip showed a second check, also written out to the “NAACP,” for $10,000 and issued by Market East Associates L.P.—a partnership pushing a proposed casino venture called Market8 and one of the contenders for the city’s second casino license.
That donation, says Maureen Garrity, a spokesperson for the casino venture, was meant to be a contribution to the NAACP’s ACT-SO, a youth scholarship program.
But it was deposited, along with Booker’s $500 check, directly into the Next Generation bank account. NAACP bank statements show no deposits that month into a bank account set aside for the scholarship program. At the same time, the group’s main bank account was incurring overdraft fees in the months after the check was written. Within two months, the NAACP bank account balance fell below zero and was over $3,000 in the red.
Kathleen Coleman-Smith, who oversees the ACT-SO scholarship program locally, declined to comment.
Less than two months after the Market East check was deposited, Mondesire appeared at a press conference to announce the Philadelphia NAACP’s support for that partnership’s bid for a casino.
Booker appears to have received a copy of that check as well because it was part of the same deposit as his own, much smaller check.
“If my check had gone where it was supposed to go, we never would have found out about that $10,000,” Booker says. “That shows that this is just the tip of the iceberg. What happened to all the other money people gave the NAACP?”
Booker is also emphatic that support of the casino venture was never discussed by the NAACP group, an assertion backed up by several members with whom AxisPhilly spoke.
“At no meeting was that discussed,” Booker says. “[Mondesire] never made any mention of a casino.”
The group’s leadership appears to have fractured amid the turmoil. Most officers contacted did not return calls. Dorothy Sapp, a former board member and longtime NAACP participant, was shocked to hear that money for the group, particularly for its “Act-So” scholarship, had been deposited elsewhere.
“It’s sad,” she said. “There are a lot of children dependent on that money for their transportation and lodging.”
Donald “Ducky” Birts, long known as a close friend of Mondesire’s, says he had repeatedly pressed Mondesire on the scholarship fund. “I’d ask him, why aren’t we giving out scholarships like other groups?” says Birts.
Booker, Birts and Morris have meanwhile retained legal representation in what they characterize as their “fiduciary duty” to look into the NAACP’s finances, both as elected members and as at least nominal former board members of the defunct Next Generation CDC.
All three were listed in tax documents as members of the board of the Next Generation CDC —but they say that the board never met, that they have never seen documentation of the organization’s finances, and that they had no idea about what, if anything, the nonprofit actually consisted of.
Multiple requests for comment by members of the NAACP national board were directed instead to branch affairs director Reverend Gill Ford, who did not return a request last week to speak. Ford met with Booker, Birts, and Morris recently, but, they say, declined to act on their questions.
Gerald Egan, their attorney, says his clients have been disappointed by national NAACP staff and are now requesting an outside investigation. Last week, Egan delivered copies of the checks and other documentation to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General.