It has been a rough month and a half for the Rev. John J Hunter.
He was reassigned a little over a month ago from First African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Los Angeles to Bethel AME Church in San Francisco.
He was set to take over at Bethel when parishioners at the church rejected his appointment by Bishop T. Larry Kirkland, due to concerns over his alleged misuse of a church credit card, a sexual harassment suit and tax evasion charges that took place over the last eight years while he was pastor at FAME.
Hunter attempted to come to Bethel to preach but was met with resistance from parishioners, who asked him for his “papers” that permitted him to preach. He did not have them, so he left.
A few weeks later, he returned to the church and entered the pulpit, surprising members and taking over leadership at Bethel. But when he tried to preach, parishioners walked out at the start of his sermon.
Now Hunter and his wife, Denise, are the subjects of a recently filed lawsuit in the Superior Court of the Central District of Los Angeles.
FAME and its new pastor J. Edgar Boyd are suing Hunter, his wife Denise, church stewards and officers of FAME and FAME non-profit corporations for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, fraud and misrepresentation.
The lawsuit claims that “a cabal composed of a small group of stewards and trustees of FAME have conspired and aided and abetted the Hunters in their dictatorial control over FAME and the FAME corporations for their own personal gain-both financially and for self-aggrandizement.”
According to the lawsuit, Rev. Hunter and his wife received help from FAME corporate officials and FAME corporation directors to carry out their transgressions.
The lawsuit also names Judge Irma Brown Dillon, a steward of FAME and director of FAME Corporations. It states that she violated federal regulations by giving her husband Randy Dillon two federal assistance loans.
It states that Dillon assisted Rev. Hunter in his absolute control over the finances of FAME and conspired with Denise Hunter in an attempt to seize control of FAME Corporations.
Also named in the lawsuit are Annie Bolden, a steward, Donald Wilson, a FAME trustee, Elmon Bon Leggett a trustee at FAME and Melville Perry, a FAME trustee and director of FAME Corporations.
Upon taking over at FAME, Pastor Boyd discovered that FAME was over $450,000 in debt in past bills, $200,000 which occurred during Hunter’s leadership at the church.
“Under the leadership of former Pastor John Hunter, FAME and FAME Corporations financial condition are now in a precarious position,” reads the complaint.
FAME is the oldest African American church in Los Angeles, opening its doors in 1872. For over 30 years, Rev. Cecil Murray pastored the church and helped it grow to 17,000 members.
He helped set up several non-profits that served the African American community in Los Angeles in community and business development and health and housing services. Hunter took over after Murray retired in 2004.
The lawsuit states that when Rev. Hunter found out he was being transferred, in October, the next day his wife announced to the 100 plus employees of the FAME Corporation that the church and its new pastor were no longer involved in the governance of the FAME Corporations.
She said that she would now serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the FAME corporations and appoint its directors. She earns $147,000 a year running the non-profit organizations.
Hunter says that he was “blindsided” by the lawsuits, and he is not to be blamed for the church’s financial woes.
“The church was struggling because we were in a recession,” said Hunter. “That is the challenge of those that engage in the ministry.”
Several FAME properties and FAME Corporation properties have been sold totaling over $6.5 million. Some of the monies are unaccounted for, the lawsuit contends. The lawsuit asks that an injunction be filed to prevent Denise Hunter from accessing business records and that the court appoint a receiver to take control of the corporations.
While Hunter is now the pastor at Bethel AME in San Francisco, he is out on sick leave. He is also trying to regain his post as the pastor at FAME in Los Angeles, while his wife is trying to remain as the head of the FAME Corporation non-profit.
News of the FAME lawsuit against Hunter surprised some members of Bethel, who have who have opposed the appointment of Hunter.
“I knew there were problems going on down at FAME with its finances, but I am blown away by this news,” said a member at Bethel.
“It shows complicity amongst the officers that helped this take place. We had some knowledge of why we didn’t want him as pastor. He is a bad manager of assets, has bad business management skills, and this goes to a level that questions his business acumen.”
The AME Council of Bishops, which is the governing body that runs AME globally, is meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas for its annual meeting. The problems at FAME, the appointment of Hunter to Bethel, as well as other church related business will be on the agenda.