Suspended 'village' director reinstated Jackson put on leave

allegation of forgery spurs safeguards study

July 17, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The executive director of a neighborhood "village center" in Baltimore's multimillion-dollar federal empowerment zone -- suspended this month after an allegation that a signature was forged to get money to pay his salary -- has been reinstated.

But Leonard Jackson Jr. will be on administrative leave as executive director of the Self-Motivated Community People's Village Center in West Baltimore while the group develops new "financial safeguards," a spokesman said yesterday.

"We are going to do what we need to do to ensure that a rough start does not have to result in a rough ending," said Joseph C. Studivant, the center spokesman.

L. Roland Sturm, Jackson's attorney, said his client denied the forgery charge. Sturm acknowledged that Jackson did not follow "good practice" by depositing a $6,500 village center check directly into his personal account, but said he was owed the money.

"It was pay he was entitled to," said Sturm. "He was not trying to abuse anything."

The Empower Baltimore Management Corp. -- which oversees the entire $100 million effort to revitalize decayed areas of East, West and South Baltimore -- said it was reviewing the village center's decision, made at a closed meeting Monday night.

"It's going to have to go to our executive committee to be discussed and the decision made on what action or communications we need to take with the village center," said Michael Preston, a spokesman for the empowerment zone corporation.

On July 3, the community people's village center -- one of six neighborhood groups in the empowerment zone -- suspended Jackson after an allegation by village center board chairman Noble Drew Ali that Ali's signature was forged on a $6,500 request to pay Jackson.

The empowerment zone corporation sent notification about the allegation to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the empowerment zone program, and the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which funnels the federal funds to the zone.

At Monday night's meeting, the village center board did not resolve the allegation of forgery, Studivant said. But the board was swayed by Jackson's statement that he was owed money by the village center and that he had made a "good-faith" effort to follow the proper procedures to get paid, Studivant said.

Studivant said Jackson would be paid retroactively from yesterday once his pay was determined, but said that a decision had not been made on whether to pay him from his July 3 suspension until yesterday.

"I would not want this isolated occurrence to result in a sweeping generalization with respect to the village center program," Studivant said.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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