SC opens probe into church’s finances, including donations
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina authorities are looking into the finances of Emanuel AME Church, which received millions in donations after a racist attack left nine worshippers at a Bible study dead in 2015.
State Law Enforcement Division spokesman Tommy Crosby confirmed the investigation last week but declined to elaborate, The Post and Courier reported .
The church’s former secretary, Althea Latham, says she spoke to SLED agents recently about the handling of those donations. Latham has long contended that her contract wasn’t renewed less than two months after the shooting because she questioned processing and transparency surrounding the money that was coming in.
Church leaders have said her contract simply wasn’t renewed.
Latham hopes that accountability will resolve lingering suspicions over the donations since they were made and help the survivors, grieving families and church members better heal from the trauma.
Attorney Andy Savage represents three shooting survivors and several of the victims’ families. His office confirmed that they were contacted by SLED and are cooperating with the investigation.
The church’s current pastor, the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, who was assigned to Emanuel a year after the tragedy, said SLED hasn’t reached out to him.
“I have no earthly idea what’s going on,” Manning said. “That’s news to me.”
The Rev. Norvel Goff, who served as interim pastor for the first seven months after the shooting, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Goff took over after the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and most of the ministerial staff were killed in the June 17, 2015, shooting, which was carried out by a self-avowed white supremacist, Dylann Roof. Roof is currently on federal death row for his crimes.
As people around the world mourned the attack and resulting deaths, the church’s mail drop filled with condolence letters containing checks and cash. In 2015, Latham said she witnessed people in the church open envelopes addressed to victims’ families and survivors. Those survivors and families have previously told The Post and Courier that they received mail sent to the church but addressed to them that had already been opened, some of it marked “empty.”
Arthur Hurd, whose wife Cynthia died in the shooting, said he saw women in the church’s fellowship hall open envelopes addressed to victims’ families and remove cash and checks from them without keeping a log of money received.
Hurd later filed a lawsuit, but it looked only at the fund Emanuel created to house the donations. It did not look at the church’s broader finances. Attorney Mullins McLeod Jr., who filed the suit, said Thursday that he had heard from a SLED agent but not spoken to anyone yet.
Emanuel leaders have said the church received about $3.3 million in donations. They kept $1.8 million of that for the church and divided $1.5 million among the families of the nine victims, as well as survivor Polly Sheppard, who did not lose a family member in the massacre.
Goff has in the past denied any improprieties occurred with the handling of the donations.
Longtime Emanuel member Liz Alston confirmed that she spoke with SLED agents. A former church trustee and Emanuel’s historian, she said members haven’t received proper financial accounting from church leaders since the shooting, despite the flocks of visitors who still pour in and leave money in the collection plate every Sunday.
“I do hope some accountability will come out of this investigation,” Alston said. “Financial accountability is a big problem at Emanuel. Yes, SLED is investigating — at my blessing.”
Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com