Sunday, January 30, 2011

Indiana Equality Benefactor Never Fulfilled Pledge, AIDS Memorial Funds Unaccounted For

In 2006, a Fort Wayne activist and founder of the Northeast Indiana AIDS Memorial pledged $200,000 to Indiana Equality to fight efforts in the Indiana General Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, which are already barred under a state statute. Indiana Equality sought 200 donations of $1,000 each to match the pledge made by Otis Vincent, whose son had succumbed to AIDS a few years earlier and added Vincent to its board of directors. At a rally opposing the constitutional ban, Vincent upped his pledge to $275,000. According to Indiana Equality, Vincent's money was coming from a coal mine he had allegedly inherited in Kentucky. Vincent, now in bankruptcy, never donated any money to Indiana Equality and creditors who helped build an AIDS memorial in Fort Wayne claim they were never paid by Vincent for work they performed on constructing it. And it turns out this was the third time Vincent found himself in a bankruptcy court. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports:

In 2004, Fort Wayne resident Otis Vincent announced bold plans to build a memorial in Fort Wayne in memory of people who had died of AIDS.

Seven years later, the memorial, built under the name of a non-profit called the Northeast Indiana AIDS Memorial, has been completed.

Vincent, however, who has declared bankruptcy twice before, is back in bankruptcy court a third time, nearly $230,000 in the red to scores of debtors, including several landscaping companies and nurseries that helped build the memorial but say they were never paid for their work.

In the past several years, Vincent has sought publicity by taking part in various AIDS-related events, including marches, fundraisers and memorial events at the AIDS Memorial. He was the subject of several news articles, including one in which he claimed to have raised $50,000 for the memorial . . .

Lawns Plus, which did landscaping work for the memorial, performed several thousand dollars’ worth of work. Owner Jamie Jones, who was represented by a lawyer during last week’s hearing, says his records show he never received any payment for his work, though he says he recalls getting a payment of about $1,100 several years ago. Lawns Plus has a $17,763 claim in Vincent’s bankruptcy.

Other nurseries and landscaping companies that returned our calls also said they had never been paid for their work or materials they had supplied for the memorial.

Meanwhile, other creditors that lent Vincent money confronted him about claims that he was the heir to land in Kentucky that contained coal and that he would get millions of dollars from its sale and repay them.

Vincent had made that claim in 2006 when Indiana Equality, an organization that represents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, launched a fundraising effort. Vincent, who had earlier pledged $200,000 to the group, announced at that rally that he was increasing his pledge to $275,000.

When asked whether Vincent had ever given the organization any money, the organization’s answer was, “Not a nickel.”

Mark St, John, an administrative agent for Indiana Equality, said that Vincent told them he would be getting money from a coal mine.

“It was a logical story,” St. John said. “It hung together. It all seemed to make sense.”

When the organization had questions, though, Vincent offered little information, St. John said.

“Sometime that summer we quietly backed away,” realizing there was no money coming, St. John said.
In bankruptcy court, the newspaper account indicates Vincent gave very vague answers about questions pertaining to contributions he raised from the public for the AIDS memorial. The bankruptcy court was not even able to ascertain at the hearing whether a bank account even existed for the nonprofit Vincent claimed to have established.

During the hearing, Vincent’s answers were vague. In the end, it wasn’t firmly established where the non-profit might have opened a bank account, or when, or when it was closed.

Vincent could offer no accounting for donations made to the Northeast Indiana AIDS Memorial and no clear estimate of the amount of donations made to the memorial, other than a guess about how much people paid to have personalized bricks included in the memorial.

At one point during the hearing, Vincent said that before the AIDS Memorial received its non-profit status, it used the Fort Wayne Community Foundation as an umbrella organization.

We contacted the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne and asked about that. No, said Dave Bennett, the executive director, his organization never handled money for the AIDS Memorial. But it did give a $25,000 grant to the memorial that was handled through what was then known as the Fort Wayne Community Education Center.

Tom Pehlke, who runs Lindenwood Cemetery, which donated the land where the memorial is located, said that grant came from a cemetery endowment that had been turned over to the Community Foundation. That $25,000 grant did pay for the monument, some benches and other construction.
It looks like the Kentucky coal mine story Vincent told people was a total fraud as well.

Vincent apparently is an heir to some land in Kentucky that contains coal, but in the court hearing he said several people share a claim. The land was listed in documents as having a value of $1,763, though Vincent testified it was worth $17,630, according to tax records . . .

In the hearing, Williams asked Vincent whether he had taken several people to Owensboro, Ky., telling them the mine had been sold and the money was in his account. Vincent acknowledged he had. Vincent also said that he had never sold the mine or tried to sell it and never had any money.

The bankruptcy hearing then abruptly came to a halt when Vincent took the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer any further questions.

When a question was posed to Vincent about signatures on certain documents, he declined to answer, extending his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. This led the hearing officer to end the hearing; another will be scheduled.

The future of the memorial meanwhile is in doubt with no endowment funded to maintain its ongoing expenses. This is just a string of frauds in Indiana related to nonprofit charities that claim to have been benefiting AIDS causes. Read more about those here and  here.

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