Fraud charges raise questions
BY MARY MITCHELL firstname.lastname@example.org October 8, 2012 10:40PM
Leon Dingle Jr., a South Side businessman who was a member of the Illinois Medical District board for nearly two decades, was charged Friday with 23 counts of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.
Updated: November 10, 2012 6:24AM
Leon Dingle Jr. is a member of an elite class of African Americans whom do-gooders turn to when they want to put on a charitable event.
And until last March, Dingle was a member of the Illinois Medical District. For nearly two decades, he sat on the public board, while running a private for-profit health-care business that afforded him a lifestyle that included private clubs and vacation homes.
More importantly, Dingle had access to grants desperately needed by nonprofit health agencies in the African-American community.
So you can see why he is popular.
Agencies that serve low-income or working-class people constantly battle to stay afloat. Dingle played a critical role because he helped other agencies access state grants needed to give black people a better chance to live.
That’s why a federal grand jury indictment last week against Dingle and three others, including Dingle’s wife, Karin Dingle, is disheartening.
I can understand how sloppy paperwork can land someone in hot water when it comes to government programs.
But Dingle and his associates are charged with 23 counts of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.
The feds allege that Dingle used $3 million of state grant money to buy three Mercedes-Benz cars and to make renovations on vacation homes in Savannah, Ga., and Hilton Head, S.C.
They also claim Dingle used money that was supposed to go to nonprofit health organizations to pay expenses at the Chicago Yacht Club and the Mid-America Club, and spent about $29,000 to pay for tickets to the 2007 and 2008 Chicago Classic, an annual football contest at Soldier Field between two historically black colleges.
I know Dingle is innocent until proved guilty.
But these allegations once again raise questions about how committed some black people in power are to those blacks that are in need.
In July, longtime state Rep. Connie Howard (D-Chicago) resigned under an ominous cloud after the feds began looking into the “Let’s Talk, Let’s Test Foundation.” The organization was co-founded by Howard to address the soaring AIDS rates in the African-American community.
I respect Howard and would have a difficult time believing she did anything other than failing to manage the foundation properly.
But her resignation came within weeks after a campaign worker for former state Sen. Rickey Hendon and two Cook County Sheriff’s Department officers were indicted for allegedly taking bogus kickbacks.
In this instance, if Dingle is found guilty, his downfall won’t just taint his family name.
The feds allege that Dingle used “straw grantees” to obtain the grants, then funneled the money to a for-profit company controlled by him.
One of the alleged “straw grantees” is the Broadcast Ministers Alliance, a group of several prominent South Side ministers, including the Rev. Clay Evans, founding pastor of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church of Chicago; Bishop Lucius Hall, pastor of the First Church of Love and Faith, and the Rev. Stephen John Thurston, pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church.
According to the indictment, the Broadcast Ministers Alliance was among the groups that won more than $11 million in grants between 2004 and 2010. About $3.7 million of that money was allegedly transferred to a for-profit business controlled by Dingle.
There’s no claim by the feds that the “straw grantees” were involved in any wrongdoing — including the Broadcast Ministers Alliance.
But anyone who has worked on behalf of a nonprofit knows how difficult it can be to get funding, and these charges won’t make it any easier.
Because the alleged fraud occurred when Dr. Eric E. Whitaker was director of the state’s health department, and Whitaker remains a good friend of President Barack Obama, the president’s opponents will likely try to use this scandal to bolster the narrative that he hails from a den of thieves.
But this scandal is bigger than politics.
For most black people, there is an expectation that when a black person is in a position of power, he or she will improve the lives of other black people.
Whitaker tried to do that.
If these allegations are true, it helps explain why black people in Chicago can’t seem to get anywhere.
In too many instances, while one black man is trying to pull blacks up, another is pushing them down.