Doing the Lord's Work Is Never Easy

Especially when you have investigators breathing down your neck and rabble-rousers raising holy hell

There the matter lay until the department's legendary agitator, Sgt. Walter Clark, head of the all-black Organization of Minority Corrections Officers, found out about Hernandez's violations a few months ago. Clark was incensed. He says he's convinced that if the same findings had applied to an officer of lesser rank, or to a black officer, that person would have been fired. "We're outraged," Clark says. "How can the director administer discipline and then reward him at the same time? I know many African Americans who were punished much more severely for lesser crimes." (Spears, who is black, denies that.)

So Clark sent a letter to Spears, which he says she never responded to. But Clark saw another opening to breathe some life into the affair. The ex-Agape employee who came forward in the 1999 report, identified only as Ms. Schumacher (she couldn't be reached for comment), leveled several other allegations against Agape -- and thus Hernandez -- that fell outside the jurisdiction of the corrections department. Some of the claims appeared to be simply sour grapes: "She was paid for twenty (20) hours, but normally worked fifty (50) to sixty (60) hours." Yet others were downright scandalous, though unproven. One allegation contained in the internal affairs report was that Agape required women to hand over food stamps and welfare money to pay for their treatment, and "the women would beg to keep the food stamps because they had children at home." Another assertion was that "a lot of the funding was obtained under the pretenses that the clients would be trained. However, Ms. Schumacher saw that 99 percent of the clients ended up with employment at Burger King, McDonald's, and the Busy Bee Car Wash, because they were not given training."

This past November 28 Clark met with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. But Rundle immediately recused herself from any investigation, because her sister Helenita Fernandez is Agape's program director. Nonetheless she asked the head of her public-corruption unit, Joe Centorino, to review the allegations and determine if they were criminal in nature. If so Rundle would ask the governor's office to assign the case to another prosecutor's office. Centorino explains there is no conflict for him to assess the allegations to see if they warrant a criminal investigation. "There's no conflict in us making an initial assessment," he says.

Corrections officer Lois Spears stands by her embattled chaplain
Steve Satterwhite
Corrections officer Lois Spears stands by her embattled chaplain

Hernandez's defenders are appalled by the accusations. "Those are totally erroneous," says Agape's lawyer Roland Sanchez-Medina, who adds that he's advised the center to file a slander suit against the complainant. "Ms. Schumacher has little if any concept of how Agape is operated." For instance Agape's clients, who all have drug problems, are required to turn over their pay checks to the center, which disburses cash as needed. Schumacher, he says, was fired in 1995, and "it's very suspicious that she came out of the woodwork at the time José Hernandez was up for promotion." Sanchez-Medina also maintains that allegations the center was being improperly run don't reflect on Hernandez, because the reverend does not oversee daily operations.

Hernandez and others in the department say Clark is trying to hurt director Spears by criticizing the chaplain's promotion. "It's not a racial thing; it's a power thing and I'm in the middle of it," Hernandez shrugs. "I respect Walter Clark, and I pray for him. He's an individual in the business of trying to destroy things."

For his part Clark, who describes himself as a religious man, says he is offended at the apparent misdeeds of a man of the cloth: "I couldn't sleep when I read this case."

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