For more than three decades, the Rev. Charles Southall III has led the throng of hundreds from New Orleans to preach every Sunday behind the bright red doors of Central City’s First Emanuel Baptist Church.
But in recent years, Southall’s businesses have come under scrutiny, culminating in a money laundering indictment from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana last week.
The billing documents gave only most of the details and blamed Southall on where the money came from, regardless of where Southall had transferred $100,000 from a bank account to a personal investment account.
Businesses registered with the state by Southall at the church’s address have been linked to other recent controversies. In 2018, the Orleans Parish School District alerted the Orleans Parish District Attorney and the state legislature to allegations that Southall had used funds from a charter school, which he considered to be the chairman of the board, to pay church bills. was. The school soon lost its charter.
A 2019 lawsuit filed by the city of New Orleans alleges he broke contracts related to disease treatment. And documents show Southall had a business relationship with Ashton Ryan Jr., the former CEO of First NBC Bank, which collapsed in 2017. Ryan faces federal bank fraud charges next year.
Reached by phone on Wednesday morning, Southall led the questioning of his attorney, Clarence Robbie Jr., who declined to comment, saying it had been “a long time since I have done so”.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to give further details on the federal fee, which was built into the information list, which usually indicates someone is cooperating with authorities.
‘Never seen anything like it’
The information leaflet contained little information about the charges against 64-year-old Southall, who began serving as leader of First Emmanuel in 1989.
According to his biography on the church’s website, which also has a location in Baton Rouge, Southall has worked with several New Orleans civic organizations, including the Delgado Foundation, the Central City Economic Development Partnership, and the Greater New Orleans Faith-Based Community Development. Hm. Corporation, a non-profit organization that developed affordable housing. He was twice ordained pastor of the New Orleans Police Department and blessed the first inauguration of former Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
For years, Southall served on the board of directors of the Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, a Central City charter school authorized by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010.
In the last years of the school, she received several warnings from the district for her financial management. The authorities found that the school was not properly paying the staff’s pension contributions and sent bank statements to the church’s Southall address on Carondelet Street instead of the school’s Willow Street address.
At a November 2018 community meeting, Henderson Lewis Jr., then-superintendent of the Orleans Parish School District, said he had “never seen anything like it,” citing the D-rated school’s financial management, leadership instability and non-compliance of regulations. He asked the board to resign, and they eventually voted to drop the school charter.
In a November 5, 2018 letter to the Orleans Parish Attorney’s office and the State Comptroller, Lewis said the county had reason to believe Southall used tuition fees to pay utility bills for his church. and some family members received health insurance through the school, although neither he nor his family members were employed there. (Board members are unpaid volunteers.)
The letter, which was sent to then-Orleans County District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Jr., resulted in no charges. Cannizzaro didn’t respond to inquiries on Wednesday.
The letter focuses on allegations by Ashonta Wyatt, who served as principal for nearly four months in 2018. Wyatt said he was fired after being questioned about checks being sent to people not working at the school. Secretary to the Board who also worked at Southall Church, according to court records.
In an interview on Tuesday, Wyatt said Southall kept the school’s cash in a separate bank account and emailed him money for payroll and other necessary tasks. It’s not clear if the federal charges against Southall relate to his oversight of the school. But Wyatt said he felt it was retaliation for his firing.
“As a director, I thought I was doing the right thing. I had no idea I was stepping into the hornet’s nest,” she said.
The Harney dispute was soon followed by a clash with Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s government. In 2019, the City of New Orleans sued Southall in the Civil District Court for the Municipality of Orleans, alleging that he violated a $500,000 agreement signed in 2004 to build affordable housing for low-income residents.
According to the lawsuit, the 15-year contract required Southall and the two companies it owned — the Greater New Orleans Rehabilitation Corporation and Carondelet Homes of New Orleans — to convert six derelict lots on Carondelet Street and Rampart Street into rental units. .
The lawsuit alleges that Southall failed to meet several terms of the contract: to rent out homes to low-income residents, to keep properties, and to submit them to the City Inspectorate. In one case, the city alleges that Southall offered residents units that are not considered low-income. In another, officials said they found one of the properties to be occupied, abandoned and vandalized.
Southall denied the charges against him in a 2019 court filing, and a final verdict in the case is pending. Attorneys representing Southall and the city did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
According to investigative agency The Lens, Southall has allowed other buildings to decay under his watch. In 2018, bulldozers looted Cornerstone Homes, a 30-unit low-income tenant residence on Claiborne Avenue owned by Southall in 2017. According to The Lens, the building decayed over several years and had more than $100,000 in liens and penalties filed against it. Property.
According to The Lens, in 2016, when another Southall building collapsed, he sold it to First NBC Bank.
First connections to NBC
Southall had other ties to First NBC, the New Orleans bank that collapsed in 2017 and is now the focus of a 49-count federal indictment alleging its top executives and borrowers conspired to commit fraud. Southall is not named in this indictment.
According to records from the Louisiana Secretary of State, Southall was a business partner of Ryan, the bank’s former CEO, who was charged with 43 counts of bank fraud, filing false reports and conspiracy in connection with the bank’s collapse.
In 2002, Southall and Ryan registered a corporation called the Comprehensive Central City Initiative of New Orleans Inc. with the Louisiana Secretary of State. Both Southall and Ryan are listed as directors of the company. The registered business address is First Emanuel Baptist Church, according to government records.
According to a 2021 court filing, Southall is also affiliated with a company implicated in serious charges against Ryan and his co-defendants: Ryan, along with five others, owns Universal Pro-Vision.
One of those co-owners — NBC Bank’s first borrower, identified only as “Borrower L” — is referred to in the court filings as “revered.”
Universal Pro-Vision owned a building on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard containing Southall’s now defunct morgue.
Two sources close to NBC’s earlier case against Ryan confirmed to The Times-Picayune that the borrower is El Southall. The court document alleged that Ryan loaned borrower L money and provided him with a loan to settle financial disputes.
Sources told The Times-Picayune that Southall’s money laundering allegations are unrelated to the First NBC case and Southall does not face any other First NBC-related charges.
Southall will forfeit $100,000 to government and a 2017 Mercedes coupe, according to Bill of Information for money laundering.
Southall is scheduled to appear in US District Court on October 5. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.