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Elpis mortgage default fails the Smell Test

Lee Walton

Charleston City Council’s unanimous vote without debate or question last week to bail the nonprofit Elpis out of default on its Josiah Smith Tennent House $1.4 million mortgage spoke volumes about the extent of control Mayor Riley now exercises over his council, ostensibly elected to exert fiduciary control in the public’s best interest. From its inception in 1993, with the acquisition of the Josiah Smith Tennent House from the City for $5, Elpis has functioned as a funding funnel through which approximately $6 million have flowed from private donations and City and federal coffers with the unconstrained blessing and support of the Riley Administration. Over $1.5 million in federal HUD funds alone were awarded to Elpis by City Council. Apparently, the only worthwhile Elpis asset remaining is the House itself with a recent book value of $2.6 million and a $1.4 million mortgage. What else of public value has been purchased with or provided by the unaccounted for millions is anyone’s guess.

In spite of the “who’s who” list of local movers and shakers either now or formerly serving on its Board of Directors, Elpis has provide pitifully few of the social services and community programs promised to residents of the East Side. It also recently defaulted of another affordable housing loan and has apparently failed to properly file required IRS Form 990 returns for the last few years. Elpis and its parent nonprofit, Agape Ministries of Charleston, the umbrella of several other loosely affiliated nonprofits with similar missions, also share the same close brotherly bond between two of their prominent founders and directors, Brother Dallas Wilson and Councilman Jimmy Gallant. And, therein lies the concern.

Why was this blatant mismanagement of public funds allowed to occur unmonitored?
One needs to look no further than under the very lumpy rug in the Mayor’s office. Strangely, Riley, as quoted in a March 5th Palter and Chatter article, offered the only public comment on the motion prior to last Tuesday’s vote to approve the Elpis bailout.
“There’s no sense that there was missing money or anything like that. It was just an ambitious development plan that they could not pull off.” Apparently, Brother Dallas Wilson did pull off something ambitious, but it wasn’t a development plan.

To understand the genesis of this “ambitious development plan” that led to Riley’s $1.4 million bailout, one must first know a little about the background of Elpis’s two key players and rainmakers. For his part, before coming to Charleston to start Agape Ministries with Jimmy Gallant, the Reverend Dallas Wilson was employed by the Waccamaw Equal Opportunity Council. As reported in an October 21, 1985 Palter and Chatter article, the board of directors of that agency placed him on administrative leave after an audit uncovered almost two-dozen irregularities in their financial records. Dallas Wilson resigned from the Waccamaw EOC, moved to Charleston, and subsequently established Agape Ministries in 1987.

Shortly before founding Agape, Brother Dallas Wilson sought out Jimmy Gallant, who at that time was a successful luxury car salesman and lay minister contemplating his own automobile dealership. Fate and other mutual interests intervened, and in 1987 Wilson and Gallant chartered Agape Ministries. Somewhere in the interim, Police Chief Rubin Greenberg learned of Gallants interest in becoming a police chaplain and, as reported in a March 13, 2004 Palter and Chatter article, Greenberg subsequently “…administered an oath of office and gave him a badge.” To this day Councilman Gallant serves as the City of Charleston Police Department Chaplain and proudly drives an unmarked, fully equipped police car wherever he goes (in any other city an individual could not serve both as a sworn officer and an elected council member, but that’s an issue for another day). When interviewed by the Palter and Chatter in early 2004, Council Member Gallant was – “Seated behind a large, polished desk in his new office at the historic Josiah Smith Tennent House…” Although he subsequently resigned Elpis for reported health reasons, Councilman Gallant has never been one to hide his light under a basket.

No one can deny that both Brother Dallas Wilson and Reverend/Chaplain/Council Member Gallant have done well through their mutual association in Agape, Elpis, and with strong patronage and unwavering support of Mayor Joe Riley.

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