Reverend Calvin Butts, the politically influential Harlem pastor, is in damage-control mode following the Voice‘s article last week about the Abyssinian Development Corp., addressing the contents of the piece in a closed-door meeting with church elders, known as deacons, and in Sunday’s sermon.
The article raised questions about the financial situation at ADC, which was founded by Butts, the longtime leader of Abyssinian Church, in 1989, and about a series of high-end vacations billed to the organization by senior staff. The article also disclosed the contents of a lawsuit alleging that ADC swindled an elderly man out of a parcel of land worth close to $1 million. The article caused a buzz both in Harlem and elsewhere.
In his Sunday sermon, Butts suggested he had been betrayed, and invoked The Godfather to suggest the article was a “hit.” “Even in the best of gatherings, there’s always a doubter, there’s always a denier, and beloved I felt it this week, there’s always a betrayer,” he said from the pulpit. “When we talk about this thing, I say I wonder who took out the hit. I went back to Don Corleone on this. I wonder how much it was. Was it 30 pieces of silver? I mean how much does it cost to hit me, you know what I mean?”
The Voice also raised questions about how extensively top-ranking NYPD chief Phillip Banks intervened in the Jan. 5 arrest of ADC’s former president Sheena Wright, the current president of United Way of New York City, on a charge that she assaulted her husband. That arrest was voided, but after her release, Wright, who left ADC in October, allegedly assaulted her mother-in-law. The article reported that Butts called Banks on Wright’s behalf.
And the article reported that Butts and the ADC hired Ralph Dickerson, Wright’s replacement as president, even though Dickerson was forced to repay $384,000 in donations to United Way NYC that he had used for personal expenses after he retired as president of that organization in 1994.
In the deacons’ meeting, referring specifically to lavish vacations and junkets taken by senior ADC employees on the organization’s dime, Butts said he was unaware of those trips until after they happened, and that he had been misled by people he trusted, several sources said.
Butts also ascribed the content of the article to a few “disgruntled former employees,” but is said to have added that mistakes were made and an internal review was being conducted of ADC.
In his trademark pastorly cadence and wealth of metaphor during the Sunday sermon, he went on to suggest conspiratorily that the article was planted by competing real estate interests who want to move on Harlem. “The deeper I dug the more I discovered, and it’s not to be revealed here. I know where it came from. But once you trigger it you have many tributaries that feed in. And you know we watch those as they feed in. because there are certain pieces–a property uptown–that we want to control.
“So therefore you have to be careful, in our practice of love, sometimes you get burned. Jesus loved those disciples, but one betrayed him and that ultimately took him to the cross,” he said. “So if you love unconditionally, then you can expect that somewhere in the midst of that, you are going to go to your cross. And it’s going to be those who are closest to you who may be responsible for sending you there. Listen. So be careful. … It’s like Don Corleone [said]: It’s the one that comes to you first.”