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by Malcolm Morrow
Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s daughter, Jeri L. Wright, was indicted on Wednesday on charges of money laundering and lying to federal authorities, a U.S. Department spokeswoman said. Jeri, 47, was accused of participating in a fraud scheme led by former suburban police chief Regina Evans and her husband Ronald Evans, Jr. that involved a $1.25 million state grant, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of Illinois in Springfield.
The state grant was for the Evans’ owned not-for-profit work and education program called We Are Our Brother’s Keeper. According to the indictment, Jeri, a close friend of the couple, received three checks in 2009 with the approximate worth of $28,000, intended for work related to the grant. Approximately $20,000 of that money was deposited back into bank accounts controlled by the couple.
Jeri was charged with two counts of money laundering, two counts of making false statements to federal officers, and seven counts of giving false testimony to a grand jury. Jeri is looking at the possibility of serving serious prison time if found guilty of all charges. The money laundering count she faces carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison, while the other charges carry penalties of up to five years in prison. Evans and her husband are accused of siphoning money from the grant to pay friends and relatives and cover the mortgage on their landmark New Regal Theater on Chicago’s South Side — a venue they said they were trying to restore to its former glory as a cultural center for the struggling area. Regina Evans, through an attorney, has said she didn’t do anything wrong.
Dr. Boyce Watkins, a Finance Professor and activist who often works in the city of Chicago, says that this indictment is not an automatic indication of guilt.
“The city of Chicago is as corrupt as they come, and it seems that nearly anyone can be indicted for anything,” says Dr. Watkins, who held a forum in Chicago with Min. Louis Farrakhan last month and recently started a campaign with Russell Simmons to stop the effects of mass incarceration. “When it comes to dealing with federal money and political enemies, it’s very easy for an innocent person to be brought down. But as African Americans, we are often led to mistrust one another, leading us to instantly assume that because you broke the law, you should go to prison. But we forget that thousands of others often break the law and have those same offenses overlooked.”
Dr. Watkins claims that the indictment of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and that of radio show host Warren Ballentine might be examples of the arbitrary application of justice. He says that even though these individuals may have technically broken the law, there are hundreds of politicians and business people in Chicago who often break the law but are never charged for anything. He considers the indictment of Wright’s daughter to be consistent with a trend where African Americans are often subject to a different form of scrutiny than others, particularly when it comes to the handling federal money.
“We must confess that the way laws are applied to black Chicago are not always the same as those of non-black Chicago,” says Dr. Watkins, author of the book, “Black American Money.” “The indictment of Jesse Jr., for example, doesn’t mean that he’s entirely innocent. But the truth is that he is probably not the only guilty Democrat who worked with the Obama campaign. Much of it often comes down to having the wrong enemies or friends who refuse to support you.”
Dr. Watkins recommends that anyone handling money from the federal government be extremely careful about how those resources are allocated. He says that the government’s response to the misuse of federal funds is more drastic than its response to murder. He also says that the public should not be quick to judge Pastor Wright’s daughter or anyone else without understanding the context of the political environment.