CHAMPAIGN - Cleveland Jefferson of Champaign has been suspended as president of the Illinois State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pending investigation by the organization into "a lack of accounting" for $12,077 in checks sent to the state conference.
The suspension stems from allegations that Jefferson inappropriately directed donations intended for the state NAACP conference into a bank account he personally controlled.
An April 30 letter to Jefferson from Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore-based NAACP, details the suspension.
"You are directed to cease and desist from acting or holding yourself out as president of the Illinois State Conference NAACP and president, Champaign Branch, NAACP," says Mfume's letter, a copy of which was obtained by The News-Gazette.
Jefferson was also suspended from membership in the NAACP itself "to protect the NAACP from the danger of irreparable harm," the letter stated.
The suspension is effective pending a full hearing, if Jefferson requests one, before a hearing panel of the NAACP's national board of directors.
Jefferson declined comment when contacted Tuesday morning.
"I'm not going to respond to that," he said.
The action comes after 68 state members of the NAACP signed a petition in late March requesting Jefferson's removal as president of the state conference.
Iris Johnson of Evanston was named as president of the state conference of the NAACP at a meeting held Saturday in Bloomington, where Mfume's letter was circulated.
Mfume's terse letter cites two main reasons for the suspension.
- "Lack of an accounting for checks in the amount of $12,077 sent by the Public Interest Fund of Illinois to the Illinois State Conference NAACP c/o Cleveland Jefferson, contrary to NAACP policy and procedure."
- "Deposits made to Union Planters Bank account entitled 'NAACP Champaign County Chapter' on which it is alleged you are the sole signatory for these funds, which is contrary to NAACP policy and procedure."
Shirley Pratt-Miles, regional director for the Midwest Region for the NAACP, confirmed Jefferson's suspension Tuesday and said an investigation into the matter by the organization is "still ongoing."
Pam Burnside of Champaign, vice president of the Champaign County branch of the NAACP, said Tuesday she supports the national organization's decision.
"I think it's necessary so the national's investigation can go forward and the branch's and the state's monies can be protected," Burnside said. "It looks like there's some questions about his conduct and the national did what it has to do to protect monies coming into the organization."
Burnside, an attorney, is a senior assistant Champaign County public defender.
Champaign County branch President Catherine Hogue of Champaign declined comment. She replaced Jefferson as president of the county NAACP chapter following his resignation from that position in late March.
The News-Gazette obtained a copy of a March 3 report by Ernestine Jackson, an NAACP member and a former city of Champaign employee, that looked into the $12,077 that was sent from the Public Interest Fund to the state conference in care of Jefferson between July 1, 1999, and Dec. 10, 2002. Jackson prepared the report for the state NAACP's Finance Committee.
The report concludes that Jefferson should voluntarily step down as state conference president, that he should be required to repay the $12,077 and that the state conference of the NAACP should file charges with the Champaign County state's attorney. Champaign County State's Attorney John Piland said Tuesday he could neither confirm nor deny whether a criminal investigation of Jefferson is going on.
"It is clear to the committee that President Jefferson deliberately lied to the members of the state regarding the Public Interest Fund dollars," Jackson wrote. "It is also clear that President Jefferson opened an account (at Union Planters Bank) without the knowledge of the Illinois State Conference of Branches. President Jefferson made no accounting of these dollars from the Public Interest Fund of Illinois to the Illinois State Conference of Branches during the time that the checks were being sent to the state. In fact, President Jefferson has consistently stated there were no checks being sent to the State Conference of Branches and that the account was dormant."
Jackson declined comment Tuesday.
Mike Doyle of Urbana, executive director of the Public Interest Fund of Illinois, said the organization sent checks to a Champaign post office box supplied by Jefferson, who was the NAACP representative on the group's board of directors. The public interest fund is a federation of not-for-profit organizations that collects donations through payroll deductions.
"This is an unfortunate development," Doyle said. "The NAACP is a good organization that does a lot of important work, but we are deeply concerned that this could happen. We have not released any funds to the NAACP state conference since we were notified two months ago they had a problem. Before we release any funds in the future, we will need assurances from the NAACP they have instituted the appropriate internal controls so this will not happen again in the future."
Jefferson is a - fixture in civic affairs in Champaign-Urbana. He was president of the local NAACP at least since 1991. He ran twice for Champaign council in the 1980s, losing in 1987 in an at-large race and in 1989 to District 1 incumbent J.W. Pirtle. He had to withdraw from a District 1 race against Pirtle in 1984 when it was discovered Jefferson did not live in the district.
Jefferson works at the Champaign-Urbana Area Project, a juvenile delinquency prevention program.
He currently serves on the Champaign County Mental Health Board and has also served on the Frances Nelson Health Care Center Board.
You can reach Mike Monson at 217-351-5370 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.