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Companies Swindled Black Churches In Kiosk Scam

Black Voice News.com, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: Apr 18, 2009

The Easter Sunday services at San Bernardino Temple Missionary Baptist Church filled the pews and aisles overflowing into the choir loft and lobby. But before Dr. Raymond W. Turner recounted the death and resurrection of Jesus he prayed for the hundreds of African-American congregations, including his own, lured into a nationwide kiosk scam.

D.C. attorney general Peter Nickles, in a 16-page affidavit alleges that five companies including an Irvine leasing firm defrauded at least 50 African-American churches in Washington alone. Court papers show the alleged scam bilked as many as 300 churches in Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, and California including the Inland Empire, where the scam clawed into at least a dozen prominent Black churches. A program that was supposed to help churches with ministry and outreach has turned into a nightmare, said Pastor Turner. In late 2007 his trustees signed off on a $40,000, 48-month contract for what was marketed as cost free information kiosks.

Christian Fellowship recalls representatives from D.C. based Television Broadcasting Online, Inc. (TVBO) and its subsidiary Urban Interfaith Network presented members of the Inland Concerned African-American Churches with what sounded like a win-win business plan. Beckley said local TVBO representative, Wayne Wilson who is African-American offered churches cost free interactive information kiosks, to be placed prominently in their foyers and activity centers. The kiosks would allow members to access church information and community activities. The companies kept insisting the kiosks would pay for themselves through paid advertisements, he said.

The idea said Turner was we would receive sponsor checks from advertisers who wanted to reach our church members. In turn churches would agree to house the kiosks at no cost to the congregation.

According to the lawsuit, as part of the agreement to get the kiosks congregation officials unwittingly signed contracts that tied them to long term lease payments amounting to $40,000 or more and gave TVBO and its leasing partners direct debit access to church bank accounts. In fact the suit alleges the computer equipment housed inside the kiosks was valued at no more than a few thousand dollars, and many, if not most of the kiosks never worked.

What we received was a cheap PC locked in a fancy plywood box, said Turner. The printer and kiosk sponsors they promised never materialized. Fortunately we didnt allow them to debit our account, said Turner. We did not lose money. They gave us checks to cover the first three months of the lease. When the company couldnt get the equipment to work and the sponsor checks stopped coming we stopped paying the lease.

That the clergy say led leasing company Balboa Capital of Irvine to sue seeking full payment of the lease agreement. Beckley who has two kiosks said when TVBO stopped sending the ad checks Ecclesia continued to pay the $900 monthly payments.

We had a contract so we paid them for 2 months because we trusted the companies to repair the equipment and honor the contract. We wanted to give them a chance to make it right.

We figured a lot of churches have these kiosks so the brothers must be legitimate. We couldnt have been more wrong. When we contacted Balboa they denied having anything to do with TVBO. We were shocked, said Beckley.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, said dozens of Washington churches are scrambling to dig themselves out of the financial mess caused by the alleged scam. Mt. Horeb Baptist Church established by freed slaves in the 1880s lost $62,000. The money was taken out of its bank by an unauthorized debit. Last week Fenty called the scam a cold hearted civil rights violation and demanded a federal probe.

These companies knew exactly what they were doing. They intentionally targeted African-American congregations. They made it seem like they were bringing a technological advance to the church when in fact they were setting themselves up to take thousands of dollars from churches that needed the money for their own survival, said Fenty.

Meanwhile local churches including St. Paul A.M.E. Church and New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in San Bernardino, several churches in Riverside and the high desert plus hundreds more across the country are battling costly lawsuits seeking thousands of dollars for the kiosk leases.

Dozens of churches lured into the scam have formed United Churches for Justice claiming fraud and civil conspiracy. They are seeking monetary damages and to have the leases voided.

Balboa vehemently denied the allegations claiming they simply provided the financing and had no contact with the churches other than when they signed leases. The suit also names what many involved described as the scheme kingpins, D.C. businessmen Willie Perkins and Michael J. Morris.

Other defendants named in the case include TVBO, Urban Interfaith and United Leasing Associates of America of Brookfield, Wisconsin and Chesapeake Industrial Leasing of Baltimore. All have denied wrong doing or did not respond to telephone inquiries.

While we are disheartened to learn that more of our fellow pastors have been victimized in the same way we have, we are encouraged that public officials are taking action and seeking justice, said St. Paul A.M.E. Church senior pastor Rev. Larry Campbell. We will continue to press on in our litigation and assist any government agencies who investigate these issues.

We feel violated, these companies went after African-American churches that really need the funds to help the poor and the needy, said Beckley. The biggest disappointment is that sadly these were our own folk - African-Americans allegedly taking advantage of African-Americans. Its a nightmare, but the goal now is to cut our losses and move on.

If Jesus can overcome the cross and death, surely the church can recover, said Turner, Weve just got to become better watchmen.

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