Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - Rev. Gerome Sutton founded the Louisville African American Think Tank in 1999.
Sutton says the organization is aimed at promoting non-violence and personal responsibility.
WHAS11 News started looking into the African American Think Tank after we learned from a source that Rev. Sutton cashed a $10,000 grant check from the state at a liquor store.
WHAS11 News was able to verify that information and discovered a lot more about the Think Tank, including the fact that the organization has not been a recognized non-profit for most of its existence.
"We’re gonna address those health issues which adversely affect our community," said Rev. Gerome Sutton, when talking about an upcoming health summit in early 2008.
When Rev. Gerome Sutton first proposed a two-day urban health summit in 2007, he asked the state of Kentucky for $135,000.
Included in his budget were $4,800 to rent a projector for two days and $15,500 to print 800 brochures. That’s a cost of almost $20 each.
Besides those seemingly inflated costs, there was one other main problem with the proposal.
"The tax exempt number had been suspended," said the African American Think Tank's former office manager, who doesn't want to be identified.
She discovered from an angry donor who was denied a tax deduction that the Think Tank had been dissolved by the state in 2005 for failing to file annual reports.
But that didn’t stop the Governor’s Office from awarding the Think Tank a $30,000 grant.
When we inquired about the grant, we were told by state officials “It was reviewed but no action was taken”. And that it had been approved by another administration.
The initial funding, a $10,000 check from the state, was cashed at Vermont Liquors.
The owner said that the reason was that Sutton hoped to avoid a long wait to get his money.
The liquor store owner charges a 2 1/2 check cashing fee, so he pocketed $250 from the state.
Vermont Liquors is where Sutton’s former employee says most of the Think Tank’s financial business is conducted.
"If you asked for a bank statement, he couldn’t produce a bank statement, because you know what? There’s not a bank account," she said.
When the summit arrived, only a handful of people attended.
Yet Sutton submitted an invoice for the rest of his money, charging the state $12,000 for supposedly feeding a thousand people both breakfast and lunch.
Then there was $3,000 for setting up and $4,500 to pay the guest speaker, Dr. Julia Hare of the national Black Think Tank.
Dr. Hare flew all the way from San Francisco, but she told us she “never received a penny” of her speaking fee, despite calling Sutton repeatedly for payment.
WHAS11 called Rev. Sutton and asked him to do an interview about these subjects. He originally agreed to talk to us here at the African American Think Tank, but he later called us back and told us his Board of Directors forbid him to speak.
When WHAS11 looked at who was on his board of directors, we discovered that several members had serious criminal histories.
While there is no law preventing felons from serving on non-profit boards, a simple criminal records check by the state would have identified possible red flags.
Treasurer Theron Dunn has been arrested for theft and burglary.
Secretary Terell Stoner has two full pages of charges including Sexual abuse, armed robbery and assault.
Yancy Davis, a director, has been arrested for drug violations, carrying a concealed weapon and child abuse.
Then there’s Think Tank Director Gerome Sutton himself, once on the “Louisville’s Most Wanted” list for forging his ex-wife’s signature on her car title and failing to pay her more than $30,000 in court-ordered alimony.
Sutton was also arrested for terroristic threatening and harassment after allegedly threatening to kill his ex-wife.
Yet despite his criminal record and his organization‘s lack of non-profit status, Jefferson County Schools also decided to help Sutton out.
Last year, the district loaned the Think Tank 10 Apple computers for its computer lab.
"They were strictly made clear that these were loaners as long as it was up and running," said the former employee. "They're still there to my knowledge and they’ve never been up and running."
Despite signs listing the lab’s hours, we visited several times and never found anyone there.
Another source of donations from the Think Tank is political candidates.
Sources tell us Sutton suggests donations from candidates who want to appear at his political forums or speak to the congregation at West Chestnut Baptist Church, where Sutton serves as an unpaid associate pastor.
An expense report from Judge Katie King’s campaign shows she paid the African American Think Tank $600 for “Political Consulting” last year.
When WHAS11 News asked her about the donation, she says she didn’t recall specifically how or why the donation was made.