Rev. Flake 'looting' lesson
By: Isabel Vincent & Melissa Klein
NYPost.com | Posted: 2:04 AM, October 9, 2011 (Last Updated: 7:17 AM, October 9, 2011)
Rev. Flake 'looting' lesson
By ISABEL VINCENT and MELISSA KLEIN
Last Updated: 7:17 AM, October 9, 2011
Posted: 2:04 AM, October 9, 2011
New York political kingmaker and religious leader Floyd Flake rakes in the cash -- and leaves wreckage behind, critics say.
For five years, the former congressman headed one of the largest churches in the country in Queens while simultaneously running a small college in Ohio -- pocketing hundreds of thousands in salary and benefits from both places.
Now Wilberforce University faculty members say he bled them dry, setting the storied black Protestant college on the road to financial ruin.
"He came in and looted the place," said Robert Fitrakis, a lawyer for the faculty who filed a complaint last month with the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
The faculty is seeking to oust the current board and Flake's handpicked successor, charging that they have breached their legal and financial duties.
The faculty members claim that after Flake became president in 2002, his compensation and perks skyrocketed, he hired cronies as high-priced administrators, he failed to raise enough money and he insisted on a pricey contract with the Princeton Review, where he sat on an advisory board.
In his last year at the college, 2008, Flake pulled down a total compensation package of $340,100, which included his salary of $145,833 and a retirement benefit of $149,267. He also had a $45,000 expense account.
Almost all of Wilberforce's revenue, about 90 percent, comes from taxpayer dollars, including federal financial aid and government grants.
And Flake earned the outsize salary while working at the college only one day a week, said a faculty member.
"He would fly out on Monday morning, get here in the afternoon, leave sometime on Tuesday morning," said Richard Deering, a professor who has been at the 600-student college since 1968.
The college maintained on its tax filings that Flake worked 40 hours a week during the first five years he was there. But Flake also said he worked 40 hours a week at a nonprofit he ran out of his New York home, according to that group's federal tax reports.
Flake tooled around the campus in a new $54,000 Cadillac Escalade. He apparently rejected the off-campus house the college offers its presidents. Instead, he bought a $190,000 condo in a town closer to shops and restaurants.
That 2005 purchase came in the same year that his salary nearly doubled, from $120,000 to $204,998, and his expense account shot up to $39,300 -- almost exactly what would be needed to put a 20 percent down payment on the condo.
Although the college did provide an expense account, Flake claimed in a 2007 interview that he and his church, the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York, paid for his trips to Ohio.
The controversy is just the latest swirling around Flake, who served in Congress from 1987 to 1997. His Empowerment Development Co. was part of the consortium seeking to build a casino at Aqueduct, a deal under federal investigation.
Flake, a Democrat, was indicted on tax-evasion and embezzlement charges two decades ago -- charges that were eventually dropped.
In addition, two of his political protégés, state Sen. Malcolm Smith and Rep. Gregory Meeks, who succeeded him in Congress, are under federal investigation for their roles in forming a Queens charity.
Flake, the son of a janitor who grew up in a Houston housing project, made important inroads on the New York political scene when he took over the pulpit of Greater Allen in Jamaica in 1976.
The church's congregation now numbers some 23,000. It runs a school and develops affordable housing. Flake's endorsements are highly sought after by politicians.
As the congregation grew, so did Flake's prestige, and wealth.
He left Queens in 2001, moving to a sprawling $3 million, five-bedroom mansion in the tony village of Old Westbury on Long Island. He drives a 2011 Mercedes Benz valued at $96,000.
In order to maintain his lifestyle, the church paid him a housing allowance in 2008 and 2009 totaling $460,400, according to tax records. He was also pulling down $217,725 in salary from the church in 2010, plus another $12,994 from the Empowerment Development Group, the Aqueduct racino company. And he got $37,750 more from Empowerment Ministries, a nonprofit he and his wife run out of their home.
The charity -- with a mission to "spread the word of Jesus Christ" -- also paid his wife, Margaret Elaine Flake, $37,750 in 2010. And she took in $228,455 from Greater Allen Cathedral, where she is co-pastor.
Flake, 66, is also able to take his congressional pension, which is estimated by the National Taxpayers Union at $24,000 a year.
Despite their hefty compensation, the Flakes continually mortgaged their home, taking out three loans against it after the initial one for $1.4 million in 2001, according to Nassau County records. As of November 2010, they owed $879,789 on the property.
The couple gets a minister's tax break on the 7,279-square-foot house, bringing their current school-tax bill down to $38,209 from $66,895.
In 2002, Flake was recruited to become president of Wilberforce, which is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and from which he earned a bachelor's degree in 1967. The school, near Dayton, was founded in 1856 and claims to be the oldest private black college in the country.
The school had hit hard times, and "he was brought in as the savior, the messiah," Fitrakis said.
It was supposed to be a one-year appointment for Flake, who at the time was heading the charter-school division of Edison Schools Inc. His Wilberforce salary was initially $114,395.
Flake quickly got rid of most of the administrators, replacing at least two with his associates.
He hired Marshall Mitchell, his former congressional chief of staff who also worked at Edison Schools, as a $76,000-a-year vice president of institutional advancement.
He brought in Amia Foston, a community-development staffer at his church, as a vice president earning $76,000.
Flake insisted on using high-school courses from the Princeton Review for students who needed remedial lessons.
Not only were the classes inappropriate for college students, but faculty members also accuse Flake of self-dealing since he sat on a Princeton Review advisory board at the time, according to the faculty complaint.
The university spent $1,180,998 on the Princeton Review over six years, according to the complaint, which says federal money paid for the classes.
A spokesman for the Princeton Review confirmed Flake served on its advisory board from about 2001 to 2009 and was compensated with stock options.
In the spring of 2003, Flake declared a state of financial emergency and said he wanted to slash the number of majors offered at the college by two-thirds. Faculty members agreed to a 10-percent cut in their salaries or their retirement contribution.
Two years later, he was giving his pals huge raises.
Mitchell, who was earning $80,000 in 2005, got a $64,000 bump. He, too, was only on campus a few days a week, according to Deering.
Foston continued to get an $80,000-a-year salary -- at the same time he was enrolled as a full-time graduate student at another university, he said.
Mitchell, who no longer works at Wilberforce, said his salary went up when the university's accountants determined the school's finances were stable. He maintains he spent most of his time at the Ohio campus but had a deal to go back to his home near Washington, DC.
While Flake managed to secure federal grants to improve the university's phone and computer systems, the money did little to help the college in the long run, Deering said.
Flake did not bring in any big private donations but did manage to get pal Hillary Rodham Clinton to speak at the 2007 commencement.
Total enrollment at Wilberforce dropped from 1,190 in the fall of 2002 to 591 this fall, below the number needed to break even, faculty say.
The complaint charges that the college will be "totally insolvent" in about 2 1/2 years.
Flake did not respond to requests for comment.
A snapshot of the Rev. Floyd Flake and wife Margaret Elaine Flake's income in 2008:
Salary from Wilberforce University: $145,833
Retirement benefits from Wilberforce University: $149,267
Expense account from Wilberforce University: $45,000
Salaries from Greater Allen AME Cathedral; Empowerment Development Corp. and Empowerment Music Recording: $221,728
Salary from Empowerment Ministries nonprofit: $68,000
Housing allowance for $3 million Old Westbury, LI, home from Greater Allen AME Cathedral: $230,200
Congressional pension: $23,000 (estimate)
Princeton Review Advisory Board: stock options
Margaret's salary from Empowerment Ministries: $43,000
Margaret's salary from Greater Allen AME Cathedral: $230,009
Total: $1,156,037 plus stock options
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