FORT LAUDERDALE — As more details emerged about the finances of a group that misrepresented itself as the official Broward County chapter of the Democratic Black Caucus, prosecutors with the Broward State Attorney’s Office have been asked to investigate the business and financial dealings of the group.
The first call for a criminal probe came from the local organization’s immediate past president, Joe Major of Lauderhill.“As former President of this organization I am requesting that the Broward County State Attorney's Office
launch a formal inquiry to establish if there is enough information and/or evidence to launch a criminal investigation,” Major wrote to Timothy Donnelly, director of the Broward State
Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit, in a June 27 email.Officials with the State Attorney’s Office have yet to say if they have begun any type of inquiry, but Major’s request is being followed by another one from the current president of the official Broward County chapter, Alan Brown, also of Lauderhill.“This is a serious concern for our members,’’ said Brown, president of the official Broward County chapter of the organization. “After finding out about the bank account, and their filing corporate documents in our organization’s name, I will be filing criminal charges with the state attorney’s office on behalf of the members and board. We have to find out what has happened, to protect the names and reputations of the legitimate members and the Black Caucus.”The unchartered group filed incorporation papers with the state’s Division of Corporations under a fictitious name, created literature, opened a bank account, and solicited funds in the name of the Black Caucus. It is unclear how much money the group has raised, but the group’s former treasurer, Percy Johnson of
Fort Lauderdale, acknowledged Brown’s and Major’s concerns.In a ruling handed down on May 30, the Florida Democratic Party voided the unchartered group’s Feb. 27 election of officers, ordered its members to cease and desist representing themselves as officials in the Black Caucus, and ordered new elections.Among those improperly elected to the Broward chapter on Feb. 27 and whose positions have been voided are: the Rev. Josh Brown of Hallandale Beach as president; Janice Jackson of Hallandale Beach as recording secretary; Diana Brown of Loxahatchee as vice president and Johnson as treasurer.Freda Stevens, who was later appointed by the group as corresponding secretary, was also stripped of her position.The ruling also affirmed Alan Brown as the legitimate president of the Broward County chapter. The ruling follows a grievance filed by Alan Brown.Johnson said the corporation would be dissolved and the bank account closed. He also confirmed that the group collected $10 in annual dues from seven members, and all would be issued refunds this week.“I’m closing the account, and refunding the dues. We never raised any large amount of money. The only ones who had debit cards were myself, and the president Josh Brown,” Johnson explained. “I wrote one check and that was for dues that went to the state, but until I get the latest bank statement, I won’t be able to determine if any other deposits or withdrawals have been made.”According to the group’s April bank statement from BankAtlantic issued on May 31, the account had a beginning balance of $100, plus $225 in deposits, for a total of $325. There was one check written for $300, which resulted in an ending balance of $25 for that period.“I have heard rumors about money that may have been misused, but until I get the latest bank statements, I don’t know anything about that,’’ Johnson said. “We had been elected to work together as a group for the benefit of blacks in Broward, but Josh Brown [president of the unsanctioned group] started to act on his own without board approval, or consulting the officers, so I stepped down. But I don’t know anything about any missing money.”Josh Brown could not be reached and he did not respond to several emails that were sent, or messages left, seeking comment.“We thought everything was being done as per the bylaws, but the state has ruled, and we must abide by that. I am still a member of the state Black Caucus, but I resigned as treasurer of the local chapter a week before the state issued its ruling,” Johnson explained.According to records on file with the Florida Department of State’s Division of Corporations, the decommissioned group filed for incorporation on April 9, 2009. The only officers of the corporation are listed as Johnson and Josh Brown.Also in April, the unchartered group opened its account with BankAtlantic in the name of “Percy Johnson DBA [Doing Business As] Democratic Black Caucus of Broward County.’’During an interview with the South Florida Times, Johnson explained how the group filed for incorporation and opened the bank account.“We were given a set of bylaws from Lizzie Jenkins, and then took those bylaws, along with our meeting minutes and corporate registration that was completed on Sunbiz, to the bank. After reviewing it, they obliged us with an account,” Johnson said.Lizzie Jenkins, who lives in Archer City in Alachua County, is president of the statewide Democratic Black Caucus. She did not respond to questions or interview requests. Sunbiz is the Division of Corporations online website where corporate documents can be filed, fees paid, and other corporate filings with the state can be completed.The Democratic Black Caucus of Florida was established in 1983 to increase the political power of black Democrats. It conducts voter registration drives and supports candidates approved by the group’s membership, according to its website.The controversy with the Broward County chapter first began unfolding when, according to grievances filed, several members of the local Black Caucus chapter, led by Josh Brown, went to the home of a fellow member and conducted an unsanctioned election, without authorization or the required 10-day notice.Johnson said he is undecided if he will seek election to any post in the local chapter’s upcoming new elections ordered by the Florida Democratic Party.“I can’t make that decision right now, but we do need to come together, because it’s going to be very difficult to put this organization back together, but I’m hopeful and I will make a decision on running soon,” he said.EJones@SFLTimes.comPhoto: Joe Major