In southeast Queens, where the war against drugs and deterioration is a daily struggle, the white-steepled Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church is surrounded by a complex of tan brick buildings that some call Flakeville, in honor of the minister-turned-politician who built them.
For it is there that Representative Floyd H. Flake, one of 13 children of a Houston janitor, arrived 14 years ago to assemble a spiritual and secular empire that is the envy of many ministers across the city.
An energetic and charismatic preacher -with administrative skills honed in business school and academia – he built a private school for 480, an apartment complex for the elderly, renovations to broken-down stores, a home health care agency, a health clinic and social service center, a credit union and a congregation that has grown to 6,000 and doubles as a political field operation on Election Day.
But prosecutors now say that in the flush of his successes at the Allen A.M.E. Church, Mr. Flake turned from good works to greed to pay for an increasingly lavish life of fancy cars and clothing.
Complaint About a Seduction
The complaints by an executive assistant, who said Mr. Flake had seduced her into an adulterous affair, stirred a former church trustee to come forward with allegations of fiscal improprieties. That in turn resulted in a 17-count Federal indictment last week, charging Mr. Flake and his wife with diverting thousands of dollars in church money to their own use.
Mr. Flake, in a statement, said his use of church money was proper. But even as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District, Andrew J. Maloney, announced the indictment, he went out of his way to praise Mr. Flake. ”In fairness to the Congressman,” Mr. Maloney said, ”his church has done some outstanding work.”
The career of Mr. Flake is a story of uncommon idealism and ambition centered on a 155-year-old church, the oldest in Queens, in a largely black neighborhood of small single-family homes. The church, on the corner of Linden Boulevard and Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica, was at the center of a long-established black community. By the time Mr. Flake arrived as an idealistic 31-year-old college administrator in 1976, there were signs of abandonment and an encroachment of drugs and other social ills.
Janitor’s Son Preaches at 15
Mr. Flake was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Houston, where his father worked as a janitor at night to support his family.
Mr. Flake said he was totally caught up in church activities by age 10, and accepted the call to preach by age 15. When not leading youth activities at church, he said, he was selling black newspapers on his paper route.
The first member of his family to attend college, he graduated from Wilberforce University, an African Methodist Episcopal school in Xenia, Ohio, in 1967. He continued preaching while trying his hand at business, as a sales representative for the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and a marketing analyst for Xerox.
After working as an associate dean at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the nation’s oldest private, predominantly black college, Mr. Flake was recruited by Boston University to be the director of a black student center. He later served as the acting university chaplain. In his spare time, he took business courses at Northeastern University.
Door to Door to Koch
In his official biography, Mr. Flake says he was also dean of students at Boston University. But one former administrator at the school, Steven J. Trachtenberg, now president of George Washington University, said that while the job was offered, Mr. Flake turned it down. Instead he went to work at the Allen church.
At the church, working alone with a secretary, Mr. Flake set out to bring services to his neighborhood, going door to door at government offices, clipping public notices in newspapers and applying for grants.
”I would go downtown two or three times a week,” he said. ”Even when there were no projects available I would still go back to say hello.”
He struck up a cordial relationship with former Mayor Edward I. Koch, at a time when the Mayor’s relationship with many other black community leaders was growing more troubled. He became known in City Hall as one of Mr. Koch’s favorite ministers and community leaders.
Financial and Spiritual Growth
The efforts paid off. The church’s budget of $250,000 grew to $16.7 million, of which $9.7 million came from local and Federal government grants and programs. The church and its subsidiary corporations now have more than 700 employees, most of whom provide home health care services.
The spiritual life of the church surged as well. Mr. Flake, an imposing figure, 6 feet 1 inches tall, with closely trimmed hair and goatee, resplendent in royal blue robes, proved a popular and powerful orator. The congregation raised funds to build the Allen Christian School.
Membership in the church soared to 6,000 today from less than 1,500. Now the choir, more than a hundred strong, is seated first come first served, and three services are held each Sunday, the first, at 6:30 A.M., to meet the demand for seats. The church just spent $1 million for land for a new 2,500-seat sanctuary it hopes to build next year.
”He is a role model for the clergy,” said the Rev. Carl Flemister, regional executive minister of the American Baptist Churches.
‘He Is a Master Builder’
The Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of the House of the Lord Pentecostal Church in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, said, ”He is a master builder.”
In 1986, after the district’s longtime Congressman, Joseph P. Addabbo, died of cancer, Mr. Flake, at the urging, he says, of other local ministers, took on the regular Democratic clubs.
Running as an independent, he narrowly lost a special election to the Democrat, Assemblyman Alton R. Waldon Jr. But a few months later he came back to defeat Mr. Waldon in the Democratic primary and won a full term in the Sixth District.
Hundreds of congregants inundated polling places in the district – and many street corners between – for their beloved pastor.
‘An Army in His Church’
”You always hear about ministers who can do things like this, but when they run against political clubs, it almost always turns out to be baloney,” said Jerry Skurnik, a political consultant and former Koch aide. ”He had an army in his church working for him.”
While in Congress, Mr. Flake continues to run his church, a dual role that keeps him in perpetual motion, colleagues say, rushing back home several times a week after a full day in Washington to attend church or community events at night.
Mr. Flake has a moderately liberal voting record, but in his first two terms he has had little impact on legislation, and some constituents have begun to grouse that he has been spending too much time on church work.
”Most of the economic development work done by Representative Flake is done by his church,” complained Nat Singleton, the head of the Association of Minority Enterprises in New York State and a former supporter. He said other neighborhood groups were not getting enough help.
Mr. Flake lives in a large three-story brick house, bought by the church for his use, with his wife, Margarett Elaine, who works for the church, and four children.
In addition to his Congressional salary, he reported earning $20,000 from the church. Motor vehicle records show that he owns a 1989 red Mercedes and previously owned a Lincoln and a BMW. Edwin Reed, an aide to Mr. Flake, said the Mercedes was actually owned by the church.
Willingness to Cut Corners
Even as his church empire grew, the events that led to Mr. Flake’s indictment were quietly under way.
From the first, Mr. Flake showed a willingness to cut corners to get things done, sometimes for the church’s benefit, sometimes, prosecutors say, for his own.
Church records provided by a lawyer for a former church trustee show that the church used $530,000 from a Federal loan for housing for the elderly to pay for parts of the Allen Christian School.
When the misuse of funds was discovered, and the church was ordered to repay the money, Mr. Flake persuaded officials in the regional Housing and Urban Development office to forgive the misspending. He argued that some of the elderly residents did volunteer work at the school.
The decision to forgive the error, rescinded last year by the agency, was made by same Federal housing officials later caught up in a scandal over political favoritism at the H.U.D. regional office. The church was ordered to repay the money.
Accused of Misusing Account
Later, according to prosecutors and church documents, Mr. Flake became more flagrant. He set up a private church bank account at his home, used to pay for transportation for residents of the housing complex to local shopping areas. Mr. Flake paid a local van company about $480 a month but billed the housing project $3,000 for the service, and diverted $75,200 to his own use, the authorities say.
The indictment also charges him with putting much of his basic salary into a church expense fund as a way of evading Federal income taxes on $66,700 of income.
The allegations might never had surfaced if not for the grievances of Mr. Flake’s former executive assistant, Thelma Singleton-Scott.
Mrs. Scott, a congregant who was married with two children, was hired by Mr. Flake as his executive assistant in 1983. She said that they soon began an affair, an accusation Mr. Flake denied.
Accusation of Affair and Revenge
When she tried to break off the relationship a year later, she said, Mr. Flake dismissed her from her job, and when she complained, her name was stripped from the membership rolls of the church.
Mrs. Scott took her grievances against Mr. Flake to the church hierarchy, and demanded that he be dismissed. She took a lie-detector test, and secretly recorded conversations with Mr. Flake. Church officials backed Mr. Flake, but not before, Mrs. Scott’s lawyers contend, she was offered a large settlement to drop her complaint. She later filed a suit charging, among other things, ministerial malpractice.
Mrs. Scott also consulted a lawyer, Robert H. Harris, who eventually took the evidence of financial malfeasance to the United States Attorney.
Mr. Harris said a former church trustee and retired Navy accountant, Elza W. Axon, called Mrs. Scott and said he had accumulated substantial evidence of financial improprieties by Mr. Flake. Mr. Harris turned the material over to Mr. Maloney.
While some officials and congregants in South Jamaica said Mr. Flake was the victim of a political or racial vendetta, the prevailing feeling following his indictment was sadness.
Mr. Flake said in an interview that the indictment was a ”difficult and traumatic” moment for his family.
”They have a hard time understanding how you can put this much into something and have this as the end result,” he said. ”They have seen me sacrifice them to perform for the church.”