Federal agents take SCLC records

A Southern Christian Leadership Conference board member said he had given prosecutors in Atlanta and Alabama records that support allegations that the SCLC chairman and former treasurer may have siphoned off hundreds of thousands of the civil rights group’s money.

The first sign that a criminal investigation had started was on Thursday in Dayton, Ohio, where FBI agents were seen removing computers, bins and boxes from the local SCLC office and from the homes of the Rev. Raleigh Trammell, the SCLC chairman, and his daughter, Angela Goodwine.

Trammell told reporters as he left the SCLC office Thursday morning that he was providing federal agents all “the information that is required.” When asked what authorities were searching for, Trammell said, “they want what you’ve been writing in the newspaper... that I’ve got $560,000.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported last month that Trammell and former national treasurer Spiver Gordon of Eutaw, Ala., may have diverted at least $569,000 of SCLC money to bank accounts they controlled. The newspaper also obtained records indicating checks drawn on SCLC accounts were made out to Trammell, Gordon or their relatives.

Though authorities in three states have been provided information, the FBI said search warrants were executed only in Dayton.

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SCLC board member Art Rocker said Thursday that he had turned over a number of bank records, meeting transcripts, e-mails and letters to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard in Atlanta, where the SCLC is headquartered, and to the state attorney general in Alabama, where Gordon runs an office in Eutaw.

Rocker said SCLC national president Byron Clay had given the FBI financial records that included evidence that Gordon made two wire transfers of $6,000 in SCLC funds to a Dayton bank account controlled by Trammell. Clay did not respond to voicemail messages Thursday afternoon.

Howard’s office has confirmed Fulton County investigators were looking into the allegations, but the status of the review was not known. A spokeswoman for the Alabama attorney general's office said no warrants had been executed but declined to say more on an ongoing investigation.

“I am confident that justice will prevail,” Rocker told the AJC.

Though controversy has followed the civil rights organization almost from the moment the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Joseph Lowery founded it more than 60 years ago, this most recent trouble is one of the most difficult the civil rights group has endured, SCLC vice chairwoman the Rev. Sylvia Tucker said.

“Our hearts are real saddened. We have to do what’s right,” Tucker said.

Tucker said she had not been questioned by any local, state or federal investigators.

Questions about SCLC finances were first raised last summer when a former board member said as much as $1.4 million of SCLC money had disappeared. So far, only $569,000 of that has been identified, Tucker said,  but the internal review is continuing.

On Dec. 21, a faction of the SCLC board voted to remove Trammell and Gordon for "possible mismanagement" of organizational funds. But in less than a week, Trammell’s and Gordon’s supporters filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court, claiming that the vote was invalid because it was taken over the telephone and because not all board members participated.

Fulton Judge Alford Dempsey ordered on Jan. 21 that Trammell and Gordon be reinstated until a vote could be taken in the manner prescribed by SCLC rules. Then last Friday, Dempsey refined his order, writing that Gordon could have no access to SCLC funds.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Fred Alverson confirmed that the Dayton searches were related to an investigation into SCLC finances.

Alverson said FBI officials likely will review all items and documents seized during the searches and criminal charges, if any, will follow that.

Dayton Daily News reporters Tom Beyerlein, Dave Larsen, Lynn Hulsey, Lucas Sullivan and Kim Margolis contributed to this article.

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