Feds Open Grand Jury Probe Into Influential South Side Pastor
Updated: 4:33 p.m., 9/12/19
Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the Rev. Leon Finney, Jr., a clout-heavy Chicago minister and longtime affordable housing advocate, according to documents obtained this week by WBEZ.
On July 31, the top federal prosecutor in Chicago, John Lausch, sent a grand jury subpoena to Illinois officials seeking all corporate records for 17 different organizations with ties to Finney.
They included his South Side congregation, the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, and the Woodlawn Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that had managed thousands of public housing units under Finney’s leadership.
The newly obtained court documents show the federal grand jury began its work in May and was seeking the state records on the 17 organizations “pursuant to an official criminal investigation” that’s being led by a special agent from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The federal probe could bring the latest and biggest blow to Finney, 81, after a half-century career as one of the city’s most influential African American power brokers under several Chicago mayors.
Last week the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Woodlawn Community Development Corp. had filed for bankruptcy and lost its contracts with the Chicago Housing Authority.
At a court hearing in February, the federal judge in the bankruptcy case said she believed the facts in the matter pointed to serious malfeasance by Finney.
“You could call it dishonesty,” said the judge, Carol A. Doyle, according to a transcript of the hearing. “You could call it gross mismanagement. You could call it incompetence. It is all of those things.”
The judge then added: “Actually I wouldn't call it incompetence because it was obviously intentional in taking that money that was reserved for payroll, payroll taxes, and using it for their own properties to forestall foreclosures.”
Finney did not return WBEZ’s messages Thursday. He had ties to former Mayors Rahm Emanuel, Richard M. Daley and Jane Byrne, and he has sat on the boards of the city’s housing authority and plan commission.
According to an online biography of Finney, he was born in Mississippi.
"Rev. Leon Finney has devoted his professional life to the revitalization of urban communities," according to the biography. He oversaw $90 million in investments that "served to motivate many other communities across the country to initiate similar community development programs.”
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago declined to comment for this story, as did the HUD special agent on the case.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter at WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter at @dmihalopoulos.