WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Members of the country's oldest Black sorority are suing to remove their president, alleging she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of the group's money on herself – some of it to pay for a wax statue in her own likeness.
Eight members of Alpha Kappa Alpha filed the complaint in D.C. Superior Court on June 20 ''to restore their beloved sorority to its former high standards of governance, corporate transparency and active member communication,'' according to the complaint. The suit demands McKinzie be fired and the money returned to the sorority.
"This is extraordinarily shocking if not illegal conduct,'' Edward W. Gray Jr., an attorney representing the plaintiffs suing the Chicago-based sorority, said Wednesday according to the Associated Press.
The suit also claims President Barbara McKinzie bought designer clothing, jewelry and lingerie with the sorority credit card and then redeemed the card's reward points to buy a big-screen TV and gym equipment.
McKinzie denied what she called the lawsuit's ''malicious allegations,'' saying they were ''based on mischaracterizations and fabrications ... not befitting our ideals of sisterhood, ethics and service,'' according to a statement issued this week by the sorority.
The lawsuit also accused the sorority's board of directors of signing off on spending funds on McKinzie without the required approval by the group's membership. For example, the lawsuit says the board approved a monthly ''pension stipend'' of $4,000 for four years after she leaves office and purchased a $1 million life insurance policy for her. The presiding position of a Black Greek letter organization is generally voluntary with the person receiving expenses incurred for performance of duties and sometimes honoraria for speaking to sorority members for such activities as Founder's Day.
Within the 38-page lawsuit, the sorority, which Gray called ''one of the crown jewels of our community,'' is portrayed as a troubled organization rife with financial improprieties. For example, the lawsuit alleges McKinzie and Betty James, the executive director who is also named as a defendant, oversaw the preparation of the organization's tax return that include many ''unreasonable large and inappropriate'' deductions.
McKinzie also allegedly invested millions of dollars of the sorority's money in stocks and bonds, investments that have since lost huge amounts of money.
But the president refutes the charges, claiming that under her leadership the organization has erased ''past IRS liabilities and cost overruns'' and improved auditing practices.
In the statement, McKinzie took particular offense to accusations that she commissioned a $900,000 life-sized wax figure of herself. She said the sorority's board approved the money to ''help defray overall expenses for our 2010 convention.''
According to McKinzie, a total of $45,000 was spent on a wax figure of her and the sorority's first international president and founder, the late Nellie Quander, not $900,000. She said these expenses were ''consistent with furthering AKA's mission'' and did not violate any of the sorority's bylaws.
Although the lawsuit says $900,000 was spent on the McKinzie wax statue, Gray said he has since learned the amount was for the two statues. The figurines will be displayed in the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.
Alpha Kappa Alpha painted the District pink and green last summer during its centennial celebration. Thousands of AKA members swarmed the District for a week-long series of forums, public meetings and social events. The sorority event set a Guinness world record for the largest sit-down dinner in the history of conventions worldwide.
The lawsuit is a rare sign of discord among the sorority, founded in 1908 at Howard University. Alpha Kappa Alpha boasts a worldwide membership of 250,000 women, including author Toni Morrison, U.S. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Diane Watson (D-Calif.), Radio One chairwoman and founder Catherine Hughes, actress-entertainer Jada Pinkett Smith, the late civil rights leader Coretta Scott King and author/poet Dr. Maya Angelou.
Doxie McCoy, a District member of the sorority, said despite Alpha Kappa Alpha's now public imbroglio it remains an important organization. ''Alpha Kappa Alpha has a proud history of serving the community and of preparing women for service and leadership,'' said McCoy. ''In the midst of controversy, this heritage and mission remain and will be the purpose of my fine sorority well into the future.''
Within the 38-page lawsuit filed last month, the sorority, which Gray called ''one of the crown jewels of our community,'' is portrayed as a troubled organization rife with financial improprieties.
For example, the lawsuit alleges McKinzie and Betty James, the executive director who is also named as a defendant, oversaw the preparation of the organization's tax return that include many ''unreasonable large and inappropriate'' deductions.
McKinzie also invested millions of dollars of the sorority's money in stocks and bonds - investments that have since lost huge amounts of money, according to the lawsuit.
But the president said that under her leadership, the organization has erased ''past IRS liabilities and cost overruns'' and said auditing practices have improved.