i-Team Investigation: The African American Think Tank (Part 2)

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by Adam Walser

WHAS11.com

Posted on November 17, 2009 at 1:24 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 17 at 1:25 AM

Complaints about mssing money from contractors' pay checks, a clown who had to write off a bad bill and a BMW titled to the Think Tank raise more questions.

Rev. Gerome Sutton has long said that the African American Think Tank is aimed at helping residents of Louisville's predominantly African American neighborhoods move up the economic ladder.

But we discovered that many of the people Sutton claims to help think Rev. Sutton's the only one prospering.

The line was a city block long when Rev. Gerome Sutton promised West Louisville residents jobs before last year's Ryder cup.

"This is only a small portion of our community. They're not just unemployed. They're chronically unemployed," said Sutton in the summer of 2008 before the Ryder Cup event." We've had 500 people apply for these jobs. 500 people apply for these jobs."

The African American Think Tank served as a sub-contractor to provide hundreds of needed workers to Valhalla Country Club.

"The offer was $10 an hour at first, " said Aaron Caudell."That's what we heard. We were all excited about it."

Aaron Caudell and his father Travis signed up to work for two weeks.

"A lot of people there, they wanted the money.They needed it. They were in bad shape, living from day to day.,week to week. they were really desperate," said Travis Caudell.

In a press conference weeks before the event, Sutton challenged Ryder Cup organizers to "share the wealth"..

"There's too many poor people live in the west end of Louisville. are barely surviving and making it," said Sutton. "While all the while. the East End is doing well."

But when it came time for the African American Think Tank workers to be paid, a former employee says, "He kept three dollars on the hour of everybody's salary . He said it was a donation to the Think Tank."

The Caudells said they never received answers about where the other three dollars went. And some of their checks came up shorter than that.

Aaron Caudell says he was only paid $295 for more than 100 hours.

"Sometimes there'd be days, i'd work 10 or 12 hours a day. from 6 to 6 or 7 to 7 you know," he said. 

About that time, the Think Tank bought a historic house on West Chestnut Street for $20,000 cash.

The Think Tank doesn't file 990 IRS tax forms because it claims yearly income of less than $25,000.

Rev. Sutton actively solicited donations from area companies to pay for renovating the house into a children's math and science center.

"He had one dumpster sitting out there for almost a month and the trash that was in it was people coming by. Not anything coming out of the building," said neighbor Charles Briscoe. 

The building became a safely hazard and the city tore it down.

Briscoe said Sutton cursed at the workers hired to demolish it and chased them from the property.

Sutton left some bills unpaid.

Professional clown Jim Davis was hired to appear at a Think Tank event, but says his bill was never paid.

"I mailed it 6 times, 12 times, talked to him over the phone once,"said Davis. "This went on for a number of years. "

The Think Tank's former office manager says she unsuccessfully tried to keep the non-profit's computer lab afloat.

"Once we had no telephone, no Internet it became real obsolete. Then he got in arrearage paying me," said the former employee.

Do where did the donations go?

Sutton's girlfriend Cassia Herron was getting out of a BMW 520I when we pulled up to his home recently.

She admitted she was not an employee of the African American Think Tank, but was driving the car, even though it is registered to the organization, and was valued at more than $25,000 when it was titled in August.

While we tried repeatedly to get Sutton to agree to an on-camera interview, he refused all of our requests, claiming his Board of Directors told him not to talk to us.

We reached former African American Think Tank Board Member Rev. Elmer Ross, who told us he resigned from the organization because he disagree with the way Rev. Sutton did business.

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