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NY Times, May 1 2014
Honor for Tarnished Clippers Owner Turns Spotlight on N.A.A.C.P. Branch

When the racist words of Donald Sterling spilled out in a recording last week, the incident not only caused the N.B.A. to ban Mr. Sterling for life, it also drew attention to the N.A.A.C.P.'s small Los Angeles branch, which had been planning to honor Mr. Sterling with a lifetime achievement award this month.

Officials from the NAACP California state conference are now reviewing why the branch was planning to give one of its highest awards to Mr. Sterling, who has been accused of racially offensive comments and discriminating against blacks and Hispanics before, a person familiar with the review said.

At the center of that investigation is the man that many people familiar with the N.A.A.C.P. say spearheaded the effort to honor Mr. Sterling, Leon Jenkins, the branch president. Under Mr. Jenkins’s leadership, the group gave Mr. Sterling a similar award in 2009. On Monday Mr. Jenkins announced that the organization had rescinded its award to Mr. Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, whose foundations have given the Los Angeles group at least $45,000 since 2007, records show.

Mr. Jenkins, who became a judge in a district court of Detroit in 1983, was removed from the bench in 1991 and then disbarred in Michigan in 1994 for accepting bribes to dismiss traffic citations, misstating his address to lower his insurance premiums, soliciting a person to commit perjury and other ethical violations, according to court records in Michigan.

After a federal investigation led to an indictment, Mr. Jenkins was acquitted of charges including mail fraud, extortion and bribery. But the Supreme Court of Michigan, which oversaw Mr. Jenkins’s work, conducted its own investigation and concluded that from 1984 to 1987 Mr. Jenkins “systematically and routinely sold his office and his public trust.” The high court removed him from the bench and he was subsequently disbarred in the state.

Mr. Jenkins moved to California but was prevented from practicing law in the state in 2001 because of his problems in Michigan. The bar association has twice rejected his applications for reinstatement, most recently last year, on the grounds that he “failed to establish his rehabilitation from his past misconduct or that he presently possesses the necessary moral qualifications for reinstatement.”

The bar association, in an opinion published last month, praised Mr. Jenkins’s “impressive record of involvement in community service,” primarily with the N.A.A.C.P., noting his success in raising $2 million to host the organization’s national convention in Los Angeles in 2011. But it declined to reinstate him, saying that he had failed to disclose a $660,000 debt, had misrepresented himself twice on rental applications and had not disclosed a $25,000 loan from a friend, Leland Spencer, who was also described by the bar association as Mr. Jenkins’s employer.

Mr. Spencer, a restaurant owner in the Los Angeles area, was also scheduled to receive a humanitarian award from the Los Angeles branch of the N.A.A.C.P. at the group’s May 15 dinner. According to the bar association, Mr. Jenkins never repaid Mr. Leland’s $25,000 loan. One of Mr. Leland’s restaurants, the Warehouse, also paid Mr. Jenkins $14,575 in 2007, the document shows.

The branch president job is unpaid, N.A.A.C.P. officials said.

When questioned by a reporter outside his office in a Culver City shopping mall on Wednesday, Mr. Jenkins said, “I’d talk to you if I could, but I’ve been told not to.”

The sign above the door of Mr. Jenkins’s office said “Career Center” and inside computers were available for people to search for jobs and update their résumés.

In an interview Tuesday, Derek Turner, a spokesman for the national N.A.A.C.P., described the local branches as “stand-alone organizations that do the work that we shape nationally.” But Mr. Turner has declined since to respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment about Mr. Jenkins, whose legal problems have been reported by news organizations in Michigan and California.

One of 52 branches in California – 11 in the greater Los Angeles area alone – the Los Angeles branch has for some time operated in the shadow of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch. Mr. Jenkins became president in 2009. A review of its website shows no listings for programs, other than the May 15 dinner, and the only staff person or volunteer named is Mr. Jenkins.

Though independent of the national organization, the local branches send a portion of their fund-raising and membership dollars to the national office, including 25 percent of the funds raised by the annual Freedom Fund dinners, where Mr. Sterling was to be honored, an N.A.A.C.P. official said. The Los Angeles branch does not release its annual budget to the public.

Among the others to be honored at the Los Angeles branch’s dinner at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel are Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and the Rev. Al Sharpton. An aide to Mr. Garcetti said on Thursday that he intended to attend the dinner. But Mr. Sharpton said in an interview that he was undecided on whether to attend.

“I was not told and would not have accepted the award had I known Sterling was on the program,” Mr. Sharpton said. “I do not know what basis a local chapter or a national chapter would have to give him an award twice.”

He added, “We all make mistakes, but to make a mistake twice I think is a legitimate inquiry.”

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