A verdict has been reached in the case against Raleigh Trammell, the former Southern Christian Leadership Conference official accused of stealing taxpayer money intended to help the poor.
Trammell was found guilty on all 51 counts against him. Sentencing will be held on June 27.
The judge did not revoke Trammell's bond, so he is free until sentencing.
The jury received the case about 12:15 p.m. Thursday, took a lunch break, then deliberated until after 5 p.m. before continuing talks this morning.
Trammell, 74, faced 51 felony counts stemming from the alleged thefts, all from a home-delivered meals service run from the SCLC Dayton chapter’s headquarters.
“The buck stops here,” said assistant Montgomery County prosecutor Ward Barrentine, pointing to Trammell during his closing argument Thursday morning. “There is only one person who held the purse strings in this case, and that’s the defendant.”
But Trammell’s defense attorneys maintain that Trammell, and the rest of the Dayton chapter of the SCLC, were guilty of nothing more than accounting errors.
“Sloppy administration of a program is not a crime,” said Candace Crouse. “Not one person in the SCLC was doing anything fraudulent.”
A Montgomery County grand jury indicted Trammell on the charges after a Dayton Daily News investigation found that Trammell’s program claimed to be providing meals to people who weren’t being served, including Oscar Davis, a trustee of Trammell’s church who was living at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center nursing home, and Davis’ hospitalized wife.
The trial, before common pleas Judge Michael L. Tucker, started May 17. Trammell’s defense rested early Wednesday afternoon after stating that he would not take the witness stand.
Prosecutors contend that the county reimbursed $38,000 to the SCLC for 7,000 meals that were not delivered between 2005 and early 2010. Two of the people whom Trammell claimed to feed were dead, two had never heard of his program and three were in long-term care facilities and were not receiving extra meals, according to prosecutors.
Barrentine noted that the evidence showed Trammell deposited three county checks into his personal bank account and six more into an account for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, which he also controlled. Trammell called the county to request early reimbursement, he personally paid all employees and he attempted to negotiate with the Foodbank, Inc., when his program lost its membership there, said Barrentine.
“There was one constant, through all this change,” Barrentine said. “It was the defendant, Raleigh Trammell.”
Trammell signed invoices or directed others to sign invoices that listed people who did not receive meals, in violation of the contracts he signed with the county, Barrentine said. Two of the people had never been invoiced until more than a year after their deaths, he said.
Another was Davis, who Trammell knew was not living at the address on the invoices. Witnesses testified they saw Trammell, a long-time friend of Davis, visiting him at the Dayton VA Medical Center, where he lived for the last several years of his life, and where his meals were provided, Barrentine said.
The two people who testified that they never received hundreds of meals listed on invoices and were not aware they had been signed up for the program, were not old enough to qualify for the program, which required recipients to be at least 60 years old and homebound, Barrentine said.
During her closing argument, Crouse said she could not offer any explanation for how the two dead people, or the two people who said they did not know they’d been signed up, ended up on the invoices. She said that though “mistakes were made,” the prosecution’s case was “illogical,” because evidence showed that there was a program and that it had a waiting list.
“What you do know is meals were cooked, meals were packaged, meals were delivered,” Crouse said. “People were fed. That is undisputed.”
Crouse also said that prosecutors offered no evidence that Chris’ Kitchen, a soul-food restaurant that operated in the same SCLC kitchen as the meals program, was Trammell’s personal for-profit business. The purpose of Chris’ was to generate additional funds, through food sales, for the home-delivered meals program, she said.
Crouse said Trammell was very busy and the SCLC had many programs. Trammell’s job was to secure grants for programming, and he delegated program operations to others, she said.
Calling him “a man who has worked his life feeding the poor,” she said there was no reason for him to defraud the county.
“There’s not motivation there,” she said. “None.”
But assistant county prosecutor Dan Brandt countered that the motivation was financial.
“This program was a fraud from the minute it began,” Brandt said. “He’s lying to get his hands on the taxpayer’s money.”
Brandt insisted that Chris’ Kitchen was a cash business and that the defense had offered no evidence to show that Trammell had fronted his own money for SCLC programs. He also ridiculed Crouse’s assertion that $38,000 was not enough money to serve as a motivation.
Brandt went through various exhibits of invoices with dead people’s names listed, of meal surveys signed by a woman who said she’d never received meals and of intake documents for the two who said they hadn’t known they’d been signed up for the program.
“Are those mistakes?” Brandt asked. “That’s intentional fraud. Dead people don’t eat meals. I don’t need to tell you that.”