Movement officials contend the center discriminates.


By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published December 23, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG – The International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement is demanding that the city end funding of Boley Centers Inc. in the wake of a criminal investigation regarding the nonprofit organization’s housing program.

Uhuru officials claim Boley Centers has targeted its members who received housing assistance or have been employed by Boley because of their association with the Uhuru Movement.

On Thursday, dozens of Uhuru members rallied outside City Hall during a City Council meeting demanding the city investigate Boley Centers.

Thursday’s protest marks the second time in recent weeks that the Uhuru Movement has rallied against Boley Centers.

The group also held a protest rally during the recent Boley Centers Jingle Bell Run.

Boley, which received $11-million in government contributions last year according to the organization’s federal income tax records, denied the allegations Friday.

"Boley Centers has taken no action based on any individual’s involvement in the Uhuru Movement nor violated any laws of discrimination," said Gary MacMath, president of Boley Centers.

The standoff between the two nonprofits began when Boley launched an investigation of its housing program after irregularities were found in its annual audit report.

On Thursday, Valerie Sanders, a Boley Centers housing manager and a relative of Uhuru chairman Omali Yeshitela, was arrested and charged with grand theft. She is accused of duping a Boley client out of $2,000.

Sanders arranged to lease the client an apartment in a Boley housing unit and asked the woman to pay the deposit and rent in cash, according to a St. Petersburg police report.

Police officials say Sanders did not inform Boley of the arrangement and pocketed the $2,000.

But according to Uhuru officials, Boley’s criminal investigation is a coverup for the housing organization’s desire to rid itself of members of the Uhuru Movement, which has a controversial history of opposing City Hall.

"They needed a reason to get people associated with Uhuru out," said Omavi Bailey, 25, an Uhuru organizer who is living in Boley housing.

Earlier this month, Boley notified Bailey and three other clients who had received housing vouchers that as of Dec. 31, they will no longer receive housing assistance. Sanders and another Boley employee affiliated with the Uhuru Movement, Angelia Waller, were laid off as a result of the investigation, Bailey said.

Waller is Yeshitela’s daughter. Waller and Yeshitela could not be reached for comment Friday.

Bailey denied allegations that Uhuru members had acted improperly when requesting housing assistance or while working for Boley. He described Sanders’ arrest as "false charges manufactured by Boley," but declined to elaborate.

In recent weeks, Uhuru volunteers have distributed fliers throughout the city claiming: "Boley attacks the Uhuru Movement."

The fliers also state that the city is "pushing out the African community" and "Boley is creating African homelessness."

"Boley is not trustworthy," Bailey said. "Why all of a sudden do we not qualify for housing assistance? People should not be homeless for the holidays."

City officials said it is unlikely that they will stop funding Boley Centers.

"Boley is a very important part of our social safety net," said council Chairman Jamie Bennett. "To paint with a broad stroke the entire organization for what a few employees did is just irrational."

MacMath said he could not comment on the Uhuru’s allegations or demands because of the open investigation.

"We are confident that when all the facts of this investigation are known, it will show that Boley has taken all necessary and appropriate actions in compliance with our legal, contractual, and ethical responsibilities," he said.

"We have served the city well for many years and will continue to do so for many years."

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.
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