FORT LAUDERDALE – A judge has ordered a former fraternity president to repay $12,200 that members say he improperly took from the group for his own use.
Broward Circuit Judge Ronald Rothschild’s May 9 ruling is the result of a lawsuit that the Broward chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity filed on Dec. 18 against Harvey L. “Rick’’ Riley II, the organization’s past president.
“It is adjudged that Plaintiff, Zeta Alpha Lambda Chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc….recover from Defendant, Harvey L. “Rick” Riley…the sum of $12,200 plus costs in the sum of $286, and attorney’s fees of $2,500, making a total sum of $14,986 that shall bear interest at the rate of 11 percent per year,” Rothschild wrote.
The default judgment in favor of the fraternity came after Riley did not respond to the lawsuit within the required 20 business days after it was filed, according to Riley’s attorney, James V. Facciolo III of Fort Lauderdale.
“A decision was made to not answer the complaint due to the costs, and the fact that [former treasurer Kenneth Hobbs] did not want to testify or support Riley in the case,” Facciolo told
the South Florida Times.
At issue were checks from the fraternity that were made out to Riley, and signed by Hobbs, with no explanations.
Riley could not be reached for comment about the default judgment, but at the time the case was filed last year, he said it was an “internal misunderstanding.”
Questions about the fraternity’s financial fitness surfaced last summer after a number of checks bounced due to insufficient funds.
Members questioned Hobbs, who could not immediately clarify the situation. Hobbs later acknowledged that he had provided signed, blank checks to Riley and was unable to explain the payments.
Under increasing pressure from his members for answers, Riley submitted his resignation as president, never justifying the payments.
The fraternity responded with the lawsuit.
“For a period of over one year from approximately Oct. 11, 2006 to Oct. 10, 2007, defendant was president of the plaintiff [Alpha Phi Alpha], and had access to the checkbook,” reads the complaint filed in Broward circuit court last Dec. 18.
“During said one year period and as far as plaintiff can ascertain, defendant, without authority, illegally used in excess of $12,200 of cash of the plaintiff, and converted said funds to his own use,” alleged the complaint filed by Fort Lauderdale attorney and fellow fraternity member W. George Allen.
Hobbs did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment about the judgment or the fraternity’s current finances.
The fraternity’s internal records reveal that the organization took in $31,719.04 in the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2007, but had spent $32,320.09, a difference of $601.05. It had $19,995.10 on deposit.
The local Alpha Phi Alpha chapter claims some of South Florida’s most recognizable black citizens as its members.
Among them are former state Rep. Chris Smith, Broward courts special magistrate Michael Robinson, Dr. Leonard Bass, Lauderdale Lakes City Commissioner John Billingsley and several others.
Over the years, Riley has been involved in numerous civic organizations, and at the forefront of countless political issues.
He is a member of the Fort Lauderdale branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and served as the organization’s spokesman during former Fort Lauderdale NAACP President William McCormick’s tenure.
Riley is the spokesperson for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 31, which represents city of Fort Lauderdale police officers. He also acted as the media relations expert for former Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant during her embattled stint as head of that agency.
None of the fraternity brothers contacted by the South Florida Times would comment on the judgment, but Riley’s attorney expressed confidence that the issue could still be resolved outside of the courts.
The $14,986 judgment has been filed in Broward County’s official records.
“Filing the judgment is a normal process here, but it’s one thing to get a judgment, and another to collect on it,” Facciolo said, adding that, “…I’m sure it will all be worked out.”
Photo: Rick Riley