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L.A. Now Live: First AME Church takes fight with pastor to court

December 6, 2012 |  8:02 am

The First African Methodist Episcopal Church filed a lawsuit this week against its former pastor, the Rev. John J. Hunter, in what has become and ugly and public battle for control of the church and its nonprofit corporations.

Times reporter Angel Jennings will join L.A. Now Live at 9 a.m. to discuss the allegations in the lawsuit and the events leading up to it.

Jennings reported that First AME owes nearly $500,000 to creditors. Some vendors say they have not been paid in more than a year.

A civil lawsuit filed by the church this week accuses the former pastor, his wife and a small "cabal" of church leaders of "holding dictatorial control over [the church] … for their own personal gain — both financially and for self-aggrandizement."

The lawsuit cited the sale of six parcels of church land worth $6.5 million, a transaction Hunter has publicly counted among his successes. The lawsuit alleges that "whereabouts of the sale proceeds remain a mystery."

The lawsuit also alleges that the pastor's wife, Denise Hunter, orchestrated a "coup" to seize control of the nonprofits that she ran "as her own personal fiefdom." Federal tax records show the nonprofits have assets worth several million dollars.

The lawsuit alleges that she removed all the corporations' files from church offices and told 100 employees that she — not the new pastor — was the chief executive. Since then, she has denied the church access to the financial records, the lawsuit states.

Rickey Ivie, an attorney for the nonprofit corporations and board, called the lawsuit "unprofessional, unnecessary and exceedingly premature" and said he expected them to be "completely vindicated of any claim of impropriety."

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