The Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House is a faith-based nonprofit agency in East St. Louis that has provided myriad services to low-income residents and others within the community for decades. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for residents of all ages, with the ultimate goal of helping to move individuals and families out of poverty.
I fondly remember attending summer camp as a teen, courtesy of the Neighborhood House. My mother, who has Alzheimer’s, utilized its wonderful adult day care facilities, providing a respite for my late father and our family.
Christopher K. Coleman was raised by a single mother in East St. Louis, grew up in poverty and attended East St. Louis School District 189, not an uncommon story in East Boogie. He and his family also benefited from the services of the Neighborhood House.
So it seemed fitting, back in 2016, when Coleman was named as the executive director of Lessie Bates. He replaced Bill Kreeb, who led the agency for 35 years. It seemed, at the time, that to have a native of East St. Louis and a former recipient of agency services as the leader of such an organization would provide empathy and the perspective to better serve the community of East St. Louis.
However, Coleman suddenly resigned his post in January 2018 amid an investigation by the Southern Illinois Corruption Task Force, which includes the IRS, FBI and Illinois State Police. Its findings were disturbing.
According to 2016 tax records from the agency’s Form 990, Coleman made an annual salary of $102,000, with additional compensation in the amount of $16,200, a comfortable living for the head of a nonprofit in an impoverished community.
Yet, according to a federal indictment filed last week, Coleman allegedly stole funds from July 2016 to December 2017, creating and utilizing false invoices for payment to CIG (Computerized Information Group), a company that was actually owned by Coleman and incorporated as the Coleman Investment Group.
According to U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft, “The indictment alleges that the former executive director of a faith-based, nonprofit entity embezzled money that should have been used to help those living in poverty.”
If convicted, such embezzlement charges from an organization receiving federal funds carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, as well as a maximum fine of $250,000 plus restitution.
Coleman will make his initial appearance at the East St. Louis federal courthouse on June 25, something that has become an all-too-frequent occurrence in East Boogie.
Recall that Oliver Hamilton pimped the elderly and poor from his position as ESL township supervisor. Former ESL political boss Charlie Powell pimped ESL voters. Kelvin Ellis literally pimped women from his perch at ESL City Hall. They all received federal vacations, courtesy of the Bureau of Prisons.
If convicted, Coleman would join this fraternity of political and criminal parasites who have sucked the blood of the poor in ESL for far too long.
In Coleman’s case, the allegations point to an issue of greed and not need. If a six-figure salary in a poor community is insufficient compensation, then the larger issue becomes one of a character deficit, arrogance and a lack of conscience.
I can’t wait to see what explanations Mr. Coleman offers. Judging from the evidence, he has, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, “lots of ‘splainin’ to do.”