December 8, 2012

Lawsuit accuses pastor, wife of improprieties

While millions of dollars are unaccounted for, the couple live lavishly and the church falls into debt.

Los Angeles Times

(Continued from page 1)

AME Church in crisis
click image to enlarge

The Rev. John J. Hunter leads his congregation in prayer at First AME Church of Los Angeles on Aug. 15. He is fighting to regain his position, despite a civil suit against him.

Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times/MCT

In addition to the church's sizable debt, the lawsuit said recorded judgments against the church total an additional $200,000.

The troubles extend to the church's nonprofit corporations, which were formed in the wake of the 1992 riots to provide loans and other support to help rebuild the community.

The lawsuit alleges that Denise Hunter orchestrated a "coup" to seize control of the nonprofits that she ran "as her own personal fiefdom." Federal tax records show the nonprofits have assets worth several million dollars.

One day after Hunter was moved from the Los Angeles church, Denise Hunter filed documents with the California secretary of state's office, appointing herself the corporations' new "agent for service," allowing her to act on behalf of the organizations, according to the state agency.

The lawsuit alleges that she removed all the corporations' files from church offices and told 100 employees that she -- not the new pastor -- was the chief executive. Since then, she has denied the church access to the financial records, the lawsuit states.

"She recently admitted to Pastor Boyd that her coup is designed to sever any supervision, control and influence" of the church and its parent over the corporations, the lawsuit states.

As a result, the church has asked a court for an immediate injunction barring the Hunters from access to corporation facilities, records and funds. The church also asked for a court-appointed receiver to take control of the corporations.

Hunter defended his wife's actions, saying she was simply completing long-planned changes.

"There was a vision to separate the corporations and church before I became pastor," he said. "Nothing illegal or wrong is done here. Everything is proper."

Rickey Ivie, an attorney for the nonprofit corporations and board, called the lawsuit "unprofessional, unnecessary and exceedingly premature" and said he expected them to be "completely vindicated of any claim of impropriety."

The nonprofits were formed after the riots under the Rev. Cecil "Chip" L. Murray, whose fatherly presence and civic activism propelled him and the church to be influential forces for change. Under his 27-year leadership, the congregation grew from several hundred to 16,000.

Hunter took the helm in 2004 after Murray reached the church's mandatory retirement age.


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