Posted on March 5, 2014

Rev. Wright’s Daughter Stands Trial on State Grant Scam Allegations

Ray Long, Chicago Tribune, March 4, 2014

The daughter of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the ex-pastor of President Barack Obama, stood trial Tuesday on federal charges of laundering thousands of dollars from a $1.25 million state grant for a Chicago-based job-training program for African Americans and Latinos.

Prosecutors say Jeri L. Wright, 48, of Hazel Crest, received a portion of the money from a grant secured by longtime friend Regina Evans, the corrupt former Country Club Hills police chief who has pleaded guilty to fraud, money laundering and witness tampering.

Wright allegedly did little or no work for Evans’ program, received checks worth more than $30,000 and allowed part of that money to be returned into accounts controlled by Evans.

Authorities allege Wright took out as much as $11,000 in cash, though she may have pocketed less.

“This case, in two words, is about stealing and lying,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass during opening statements in Springfield’s U.S. District Court.

John Taylor, Wright’s attorney, challenged the charges, saying Evans “abused, tricked and deceived” Wright.

Wright, who has pleaded not guilty, faces 11 criminal charges, ranging from two money laundering counts to allegations of lying repeatedly to federal authorities and grand jurors. Her father, Rev. Wright, whose preaching became a lightning rod during Obama’s first presidential campaign, is not part of the case.

Evans applied for the $1.25 million job-training grant in February 2009 for a group called We Are Our Brother’s Keepers. The proposal called for 40 people to get training in bricklaying and electrician skills.

Within months, Evans began tapping the funds for what Bass called a “spending spree,” including a trip to Las Vegas, a basement remodeling and the purchase of vehicles for a security business with her husband.


{snip} The proposal won letters of support from Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat who long served as the Senate’s budget point man, and from then-Rep. Marlow Colvin, a Chicago Democrat who once headed the House Black Caucus and is now a lobbyist.

The letters, presented by prosecutors as evidence to the jury, noted the grant would help pay “stage hands” at the South Side’s Regal Theater, which Evans owned with her husband, Ronald.

Shortly after the state approved the grant, though, state overseers noticed Evans’ $2 million loan on the Regal Theater was in foreclosure.

Evans later admitted when she pleaded guilty that she concealed her financial status and her intent to use the state grant toward making delinquent loan payments.

Even after state officials quizzed Evans about the grant, Sen. Trotter fought state officials when they pressed to get some of the money back, prosecutors said. In a letter to state officials, Trotter wrote he was “concerned” because the Evans program had foresight, insight, depth and a “measurable positive impact.” Trotter was not on the Senate floor for session on Tuesday and did not return calls seeking comment.

By spring 2010, Evans began dodging state attempts to get answers for how she had spent more than $900,000 and the matter “really kind of started to smell — to put it nicely,” said Karen Norington-Reaves, who served shortly as top deputy in the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.