published Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Multicultural loan originator let go


by Cliff Hightower
Multiple vacant lots are photographed Wednesday in the 400 block of MLK Blvd., leading up to the former Renewal Barber Shop at 423 MLK Blvd., seen in the background.
Multiple vacant lots are photographed Wednesday in the 400 block of MLK Blvd., leading up to the former Renewal Barber Shop at 423 MLK Blvd., seen in the background.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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  • photo
    The Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce proposed this Business Solutions Center rendered here. Contributed photo

THE STORY SO FAR

The Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce faces an investigation by the FBI and an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about the use of federal loans and grants to buy property and build a Business Solutions Center on M.L. King Boulevard. The center has never been built.

The inquiries were spurred after a Times Free Press investigation showed inconsistencies with budget requests turned in to Chattanooga and Hamilton County. A later review by City Auditor Stan Sewell showed possible financial mismanagement, questionable land deals and exorbitant salaries and travel expenses.

The man who helped arrange a $579,000 loan to the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce for a business center that was never built was dismissed Wednesday as part of a "reorganization."

Elijah Cameron, a commercial lending specialist for Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise and the Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution, no longer works for those entities, confirmed David Johnson, president of the organizations.

"I was brought in specifically to reorganize and to move in a different direction," Johnson wrote in an emailed statement. In earlier interviews, Johnson said he was hired in December 2009. "Mr. Cameron's departure is part of that reorganization process."

Cameron did not respond to a phone message left at his home Wednesday.

Cameron's departure comes just three weeks after the FBI questioned him and Johnson about the loan made in October 2009 to the Multicultural Chamber. The Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution (CCDFI) helps arrange loans for urban revitalization projects.

The $579,000 was to be used as part of the funding for a Business Solutions Center the Chamber planned to build on lots it owns on M.L. King Boulevard. The Chamber planned to use part of the complex for its own offices and rent space to other businesses.

  • photo
    Sherrie Gilchrist is the executive director of the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Executive Director Sherrie Gilchrist has blamed the recession that began in 2007 for the lack of action to date on the center's construction.

Cameron, who originated the Multicultural Chamber loan and presented it to the CCDFI board, was a founding member of the chamber. Gilchrist was secretary and a longtime member of the CCDFI board, though she recused herself from the vote on the loan to Multicultural Chamber, minutes of the 2009 board meeting show.

The loan now is now more than two months in arrears and the CCDFI is considering whether to foreclose, Johnson has said.

Separately, HUD has asked the chamber to account for a $545,000 grant that HUD gave it to buy land for the Business Solutions Center.

Johnson's email said Cameron's departure had nothing to do with the Multicultural Chamber loan.

"He was laid off as part of a reorganization that had no bearing on the TMCC loans," he said.

Hugh Sharber, chairman of the CCDFI board, declined to comment Wednesday.

Before joining CNE in January 2008, Cameron was executive director of the M.L. King Community Development Corp., whose mission was to revitalize the historic neighborhood. The Community Development Corp. lost funding and is no longer in operation.

In 2007, before Cameron joined CCDFI, the organization had a hand in an M.L. King revitalization project that now is being unwound in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Renaissance Square was a combined office and residential building on the corner of M.L. King and Houston streets.

The developer, the 28th Legislative District Community Development Corp., secured $1.2 million in private money for the project. It borrowed more than $950,000 from CCDFI and $510,000 from a separate, New York-based community development financial institution called Seedco, records show.

Now both financial institutions are among the creditors trying to recover their money as the 28th CDC goes through bankruptcy reorganization.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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Citizen49 said...

John Taylor - We have not heard from you lately.

The money is where the money is - why are you quiet? Why aren't you stepping up like you did when this first came to light? Are you just staying home and counting your money? What's up John - let's hear from you. We are all looking for another quote from you to show what a smart and great person you are, the defender of the Chattanooga minorities.

August 4, 2011 at 8:11 a.m.
myopinion101 said...

Oh Citizen49... John is so busy burying all his cash in mayonnaise jars in his back yard!! He can't come to the spotlight right now!! He'll have dirt on his hands no matter when he shows up!! There's a lot of folks in town with dirt under their nails over this fiasco!

August 4, 2011 at 8:49 a.m.
NoOne1229 said...

Someone needs a better fact checker.

August 5, 2011 at 9 p.m.
tnman said...

I believe someone ought to check out the President of CNE David Johnson. I think they would be surprised by what skeletons he has in his closet. He puts on that big smile, but he is as low down as you can get. He has even hired a CFO, that was banned from working in Dalton Georgia because he did not have a business license and he is believed to be an illegal alien. There is more going on at CNE than people think, and they need to start with the President and move onto the CFO. Believe me, it would make a great front page story!!

August 11, 2011 at 9:41 a.m.
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