Lead Story West Edition

FAME ends five-year legal battle

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles has announced the end of its five-year legal battle with FAME Assistance Corporation.

The Rev. J. Edgar Boyd and the staff of FAME Assistance Corporation held a press conference Oct. 20 to inform the community of its latest development.

Boyd said an appellate court had “fully affirmed” the judgment of the lower court, returning the assets of 325 units of low-income housing, a diverse portfolio of real estate, and an assortment of public benefits service programs back to the management and operation of First AME Church of Los Angeles.

“It’s very important for the community that supported First AME Church in 1992, and another 10-plus years after that,” Boyd said.

“Those who gave support, provided resources, and helped provide grant funding for a wide assortment of services for the community need to know — that the eight years prior of my coming — those years are over and the court has granted all of these corporations to the control and management of First AME Church.”

Back in August 2012, the former FAME pastor John J. Hunter and administration of First AME Church changed the by-laws of its nonprofit corporations.

It separated and removed the diverse multi-million dollar public benefits corporation (FAC/FAME Housing) away from the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

The First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles has ended a five-year legal battle against a former pastor over church property and the nonprofit organization the church created more than two decades ago. (Courtesy photo)

However, that was not the first issue with Hunter. The former pastor had a rough tenure at the church.

He took over FAME in 2004 and four years later an internal audit found that he charged $122,000 in personal expenses to the church’s credit card. He was also sued for sexual harassment, a civil claim that was settled for an undisclosed amount.

As the controversies continued, Hunter was transferred to a San Francisco church, which rejected him.

In December 2012, the oldest black church in Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against Hunter, his wife Denise Hunter, and a small group of the church leaders.

The 14-page lawsuit charged the corporations and their leaders with corporate improprieties and self-dealing.

After a four-year court battle, First AME Church won the lawsuit. The ruling voided the 2012 changing of the by-laws.

Boyd was allowed to serve as CEO and it also allowed the church to select new officers and directors of FAME Assistance and FAME Housing.

The defendants, having lost the lawsuit in the lower court, filed an appeal.

The church’s reputation wasn’t always so shaky. Founded by African Americans in 1872, the first organizer and leader was Biddy Mason.

Under the guidance of the Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, the church grew from approximately 300 members to 18,000. He was the church’s pastor from 1977 to 2004.

Its nonprofit corporations were formed in the wake of the 1992 L.A. riots to provide support and help rebuild the community. President George H. W. Bush named the church the 177th Point of Light for its outreach in community services.

“We will do our best to make sure that all the things that are out of place will be restored, will be put back in place, and those who provided the resources will be gratified. The community will get the services they are accustomed to receiving,” Boyd said.

The church intends to continue to administer the services that it provides, to make sure the doors of the housing units are open, and that the tenants’ needs are met.

In order to provide transparency, FAME plans to hold similar press conferences during significant times, when great achievements have been met and when new partnerships are announced.

“We will let the community know with events like this what is going on,” Boyd said.