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But state prosecutors did not give up. There remained a criminal probe into a $75,000 grant received by a company controlled by Spence-Jones and her immediate family. The money was set aside for renovating a crack house on NW Seventh Avenue at NW 49th Street into a hair salon, day spa, art gallery, and café.
Fernandez Rundle claims Spence-Jones submitted phony documents to divert $50,000 in taxpayer money for herself and her family. According to the arrest affidavit, she deposited the funds into a bank account that held personal and other grant funds, including $8,000 in consulting fees she had collected from Friends of MLK, a nonprofit organization run by her pastor, Rev. Gaston Smith. He was charged this past February with using Friends of MLK grants to pay for a lavish lifestyle. (Smith has claimed the $8,000 he paid Spence-Jones was a kickback. Spence-Jones counters she earned the money by fundraising.)
Spence-Jones and family members used $35,000 from that account to pay for, among other things, an American Express bill that included charges for air travel, hotel stays, restaurants, pet care, shoes, groceries, and automobile repairs.
One of the keys to the state's case is the testimony of Carey-Shuler, who claims she never authored a letter Spence-Jones submitted to obtain the funds. According to the arrest affidavit: "In fact, Ms. Carey-Shuler stated that she was 'shocked' that Michelle Spence-Jones had gotten the funds.'"
Alayon says the evidence won't hold up. Carey-Shuler called him to say her comments "were taken out of context," he explains.
Other witnesses hold a grudge against Spence-Jones because she wouldn't help them recover unpaid architectural fees, says community activist Leroy Jones. "Michelle wouldn't back them up," he reports.
Prosecutors' biggest problem might be that the Seventh Avenue property was rehabilitated. The hair salon and spa are there today, propping up a troubled neighborhood.
Back at her Liberty City compound, Spence-Jones asserted that "every quarter" that went into renovating the building is "accounted for."
Furthermore, her mother, Yvonne Lowe, interjected, the family invested in the venture. "I put all of my retirement money into it," she said. "My son, Anthony, mortgaged his house. We're talking close to $100,000 that we put in."
Looking up at her daughter, Lowe promised that Spence-Jones will clear her name and return to office. "People don't know Michelle," Lowe said. "But now they gonna find out who she is."