Freedom Inc. administrators fined for mishandling finances

03/20/2012 5:00 AM

05/16/2014 6:16 PM

The Missouri Ethics Commission has fined the former secretary of a prominent Kansas City political club for pocketing potentially thousands of dollars in club funds.

In addition, the former president of Freedom Inc., Craig Bland, was fined for signing club checks he was not authorized to sign. And former treasurer Carl Evans was penalized for failing to keep accurate records.

The former secretary, Velda Cook, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But last week she signed commission documents admitting probable cause existed that she had violated the law.

She was fined $2,600 for “conversion of contributions to personal use” and $749 for co-signing Freedom Inc. checks she was not authorized to sign. That fine will grow to $7,482 if she commits other violations within two years.

Bland and Evans also could not be reached for comment.

Numerous Kansas City Democratic officials declined comment on what amounts to another setback for the east-side organization, which is gearing up to commemorate its 50th anniversary.

The latest enforcement action, made public in documents released late Monday, comes about five years after the Federal Election Commission fined Freedom $45,000 for its involvement in Emanuel Cleaver’s 2004 race for Congress.

At the time, the FEC said Freedom was registered as a state political committee, but had not registered to engage in federal races, such as Cleaver’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat, which he wound up winning.

Clinton Adams, a lawyer who represents Freedom, said that Bland resigned as president in January. He would not comment on whether Bland’s resignation was connected to the ethics charges.

Adams said a three-person committee —Gayle Holliday, the wife of former Freedom leader Harold Holliday Jr., state Sen. Kiki Curls, a Kansas City Democrat, and former city councilman Charles Hazley — is now overseeing Freedom’s operations.

Gayle Holliday said Freedom was trying to transition to new leadership and anticipated an election of new officers within three or four months. She said the club, which reported $1,374 in its bank account as of Dec. 31, remained viable.

“We’re just trying to put our structure back together,” she said. “It was kind of lagging a bit.”

Holliday said Bland resigned because of an “overload of responsibilities” and that “he just couldn’t keep up with all the things going on.”

A former Missouri lawmaker, Bland was fined $3,070. But the commission said if Bland paid 10 percent of that, or $307, and did not commit other violations within two years, the remainder of the fine would be dropped.

A similar arrangement was made for Evans. His initial fine was $556, but the total would grow to $5,556 if he commits more violations.

According to commission documents, the ethics probe focused on 14 payments in 2008 and 2009 totaling $7,262 from Freedom’s political fund, “some of which respondent Cook converted into personal use.”

Among them were numerous incidents in which Cook provided invoices in response to commission subpoenas that contained references to credit-card payments that never appeared on Cook’s credit-card statements.

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