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Muhammad: ‘We’re in a war with City Colleges’ that’s seeking to seize the Harold Washington Center  

Filing conspiracy charges, he said, ‘They’re in for a hell of a fight’ 

 

By Chinta Strausberg

 

Representing the legal team of the Tobacco Road, Incorporated (TRI), a 501 © 3 which owns and operates the Harold Washington Cultural Center (HWC), famed Attorney Berve M. Power Muhammad announced that he has filed a civil conspiracy charge against City Colleges of Chicago which is trying to seize control of the popular Center.

Speaking at the “State of the Harold Washington Cultural Center Town Hall” meeting, Muhammad said he filed a “2691 motion” which he said means “if we win this motion, City Colleges does not have another chance to come back. If we win this motion, City Colleges gets knocked out of the case completely.”

Muhammad said his legal team is alleging that City Colleges “is an educational institution. It should not be allowed to hold this mortgage. You see, they got a little over anxious from our vantage point. They were trying to close this deal real fast; so we think they may have gone round a few rules to try and get this (the Harold Washington Cultural Center’s) mortgage.

“They cited a law where they wanted to knock out the claims in the affirmative defenses that we filed. They cited a law that says they have a right to buy property to help support City Colleges. So, we went and looked at the law and read the part they didn’t cite,” said Muhammad noting what they left out was “pretty interesting.”

Explaining Muhammad said, “There is one line in that same law that says ‘no purchase can be made without prior approval of the state board.’ We don’t think they got prior approval from the State Board to make this acquisition.

“If they, in fact jumped the gun, if they, in fact made this acquisition without state approval, then we are going to ask that City Colleges be thrown out of the case for violating the law. “

The Harold Washington Cultural Center, 4701 S. King Dr., is in foreclosure proceedings. Recently, Judge Franklin D. Valdarrama barred the City Colleges of Chicago from the property saying it does not “own, operate, manage or have any jurisdiction over the facility.”

The Center’s lawyers, led by Muhammad, have filed a multi-million dollar counter claim against the City Colleges of Chicago.

According to Muhammad, and Jimalita Tillman, the executive director of the Center, the Harold Washington Cultural Center is owned and operated by Tobacco Road, Incorporated (TRI) which is a 501 © 3 non-profit organization.

Its mission is to “preserve and protect the rich black culture” and its goal is to “deter at-risk behavior in our youth through training in media and the performing arts.” The Tillman’s are fighting the foreclosure that threatens to shut down the Center.

However, Muhammad said there is more to this foreclosure than meets the eye. He said in December 10, 2010, he asked for and received through a request for discovery from the Shore Bank. In January of this year, the City Colleges became the plaintiff on this foreclosure case.

Initially, he said it was Shore Bank that had the loan “then it was the City of Chicago that had its own grants.

“In February of this year, the attorney they (the Tillman’s) withdrew from the case.” Muhammad said Jimalita Tillman became the only representative for the center until Minister Louis Farrakhan asked him to become Tillman’s lawyer.

At a meeting at Farrakhan’s home, Muhammad said Jimalita Tillman handed him a folder that had some e-mails in it from the City of Chicago and Shore Bank which showed four to five-months before the foreclosure was filed, they were having conversations with each other.” Muhammad said they were having conversations “trying to figure out the best way to take over this building.

“They were literally dividing up the case to try and figure out if the City of Chicago filed the foreclosure and what would be the best route for that or if Shore Bank would file the foreclosure what would be the best route,” he said.

“When we saw these e-mails going back and forth…there was even an e-mail that represent Jimalita and Dorothy Tillman were trying to pay off all that they claim that was owed but a representative from Shore Bank wrote another representative from Shore Bank to say that they were not going to allow them to pay what ever was outstanding so that they can go forward with this foreclosure,” said Muhammad.

“You may still think it (the foreclosure) was due to their not paying their mortgage,” he said. “But, this discovery showed something. “It showed payments made by Tobacco Road for their mortgage payment. This loan was not an interest-only loan.

“This loan was for principle and interest,” he explained. “The interest on a loan is what the bank makes off of the loan that they gave you.”

In looking at the documents he received through discovery, Muhammad pointed to a large screen on the stage showing that the Tillman’s made huge payments as early as April 1, 2005 for $17,000 and including $30,000 on May 19, 2009, $25,000 on June 4, 2009, $9,570.00 on November 18, 2009 for a total of $280,000.

“The interesting thing,” he said, “is that Shore Bank would not tell them how much they had to pay.” “All of these payments, Shore Bank was putting in their pocket as interest payments. Interest is calculated on your principle. If your principle never goes down, your interests always stay high.

“Since Tobacco Road was making all of these payments that totaled up to $280,000 not one single dime of that was ever applied to principle,” Muhammad explained. “This is what their document showed.” He said the bank knew that “when they gave this discovery they would have some problems if we were diligent.”

Saying while his team is on the defensive now, after looking at the documents, Muhammad said, “It’s time to change the jersey and potentially go on the offensive with what we have discovered.”

He showed up in court on April 21, 2011. Muhammad said City Colleges came in with a motion to take over the Center within four-days claiming that the emergency systems did not work in the building. However, Muhammad proved they were wrong and the judge refused to allow the City Colleges take over.

Muhammad said “the attorney for City Colleges then told the judge that this case has gone on long enough” and objected to Muhammad’s legal team wanting to file an amended motion. Customarily, he said, an attorney has 21 or 28-days to file an amended answer. “We were given seven-days,” he said.

“But what they didn’t know was that we had a little motivation to work with what eve time constraints that we were given to make sure that the rights of Dorothy Tillman were preserved and Tobacco Road and our rights were preserved.”

He said they filed a 40-page document in response, called affirmative defenses, in seven-days, which contained a claim that City Colleges should not be holding the mortgage to the Center. “City Colleges is designed to educate people. The Public Community College Act says that the purpose of any institution created under that act is for the education of people.

“And, so now the City Colleges is holding the mortgage but the only folk I know who holds mortgages are banks,” said Muhammad. “So, now the City Colleges has the responsibility of trying to manage this mortgage which it is not equipped to do.”

Muhammad told the judge that “you ought not to allow the City Colleges to be able to hold this mortgage.” Muhammad said his legal team also filed a civil conspiracy against City Colleges, the City of Chicago and Shore Bank because what we discovered in the discovery is that the City Colleges wanted this building and so City Colleges went to the city and said can you help us get this building.

“We allege that City Colleges and the City of Chicago then had a conversation with Shore Bank to try and figure out a way to get control of this building and they said in writing that they are not going to let them cheer any default that they have on this mortgage so that it can go on with this foreclosure.

“After the foreclosure was filed, the City of Chicago in January of last year transferred up to $1.8 million of our money to the City Colleges they thought to purchase this building,” said Muhammad. “But the problem is that Shore Bank didn’t own the building. City Colleges then gave $1.4 million to Shore Bank and bought them out. That is how City Colleges then got this interest in this building.”

However, Muhammad said “they have a predicament on their hands because now they are locked into what Shore Bank did and didn’t do right. In any foreclosure action, it is equivalent to a breech of contract. They basically said you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, but Shore Bank didn’t do right. In any foreclosure action, it is equivalent to breech of contract,” he stated. “The problem is Shore Bank didn’t do what it was supposed to do which was to apply these payments towards principle.

“The law is very clear,” said Muhammad. “If you breech a contract, you can’t now claim another clause in that contract to your benefit and so since Shore Bank did not apply these payments to principle, we’re arguing that Shore Bank breeched the contract as well.”

“We filed a 2169 motion that says if we win this motion, City Colleges does not have another chance to come back…. If we win this motion, City Colleges gets knocked out of this case completely….”

Referring to his mother who told him, “God doesn’t like ugly,” Muhammad said, “When you’re trying to do things in a certain kind of way you got to be real careful because sometimes it comes back to haunt you.”

Looking out into the audience at Tillman, Muhammad said, “You are not the first strong black woman I’ve met in my life because the first one is my mother and there is something real particular, Sister Dorothy Tillman, as to some of the energy I bring to this case.”

Muhammad said his mother was director of the Carter G. Woodson Library at 95th and Halted for 17-years.  “Because she was a strong black and is a strong black woman, she would not allow the library on the South Side of Chicago to not be treated like the libraries on the North Side of Chicago and so she would stand up.

“She wrote letters on behalf of black people on 95th and Halsted to say if you are going to spend money on libraries up North, you should come South and spend money on this library as well,” he said saying it showed the “vigor that she brought to representing the interests of our people.”

Muhammad said because of her integrity and consistent fight for economic parity for black libraries, he said “some people downtown didn’t like that” and ultimately “they bought the weight of the city down on her to move her into a position to try and terminate her.” At that time, Muhammad said he was not a seasoned and was unable to help her.

However, he vowed from that point on to “never again would I allow an underdog to be taken advantaged of and it doesn’t matter who is on the other side or how many lawyers they got on the other side. So there is a little extra energy that I bring to that,” he told a cheering audience.

“What actually pushed the city over the line and was determined that they had to get rid of my mother, was that she supported you.” Muhammad said as the director of that library, his mother was at the opening of the Muhammad University Library in 1989 and she brought books from Carter G. Woodson to supply Muhammad University’s Library.

“There was somebody there who was kind of scared to be there and came up to my mother and told her, ‘you know there is somebody outside taking down these license plates. Girl, you might get in trouble.’”

Muhammad said his mother responded, “Listen, I am going to here with my black people and these babies got to read. She would let the sisters come over from the mosque and take the books out when ever they wanted to and bring them back when ever they wanted to, but I watched them maneuver her out” of her position “so they can then take some of the benefits away all because she was just that strong to stand up for our people.

“So, I know we are at a war with this case with the City Colleges of Chicago, and there is something about war. It’s very difficult to make guarantees in a war, but in this war we can make some guarantees. We cannot guarantee we can win this case, but we can absolutely guarantee that they are in for a hell of a fight in this case.

“We cannot guarantee that Goliath is going to fall, but we sure can guarantee that Goliath is going to get cut. We can’t guarantee that we won’t lose some of the rounds in this heavyweight fight…but what we can guarantee regardless of the odds that are stacked against us, regardless of the weight of the authority against us, it is one thing that we can guarantee that we won’t lose.

“We can guarantee that we won’t lose the faith and the God of our weary years and the God of our silent tears that have brought us thus far on our way.

“As we move forward representing our people, we got to know that when you got that kind of faith, it doesn’t matter what the opposition looks like because you know that the God that is with you is stronger than any forces that can come against you.

“And so it’s really easy to fight when you know a God…and care less that could be said or done because one thing we know is that justice must prevail…,” said Muhammad.

“Whether we’re here to see justice roll or not, history does not record the cowards. History records those who stand up and fight on behalf of their people and so this is not about making the history books. It’s sure nice to make the history books if you have to but standing up and fighting for your people,” said Muhammad.

City Colleges spokesperson Katheryn Hayes would not give comment to the media.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.

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