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LEPC Withdraws Abernathy Sponsorship

Feb. 9, 2005 –– The Law Enforcement Planning Commission Wednesday decided not to sponsor the St. Thomas portion of the Rev. Ralph Abernathy III's trip here after the agency learned about his checkered past. (See "Abernathy to Speak in V.I. Despite Checkered Past").
The V.I. National Park several weeks ago withdrew its invitation to Abernathy to speak at the park's annual Folklife Festival because it was too expensive, Art Frederick, park superintendent, said Wednesday.
Late Wednesday, it remained unclear whether Abernathy would visit as planned on Feb. 19 through Feb. 28.
Flemon Lewis, director of LEPC's Juvenile Justice Program, declined to say how much it planned to spend on Abernathy's trip, but said it had planned to pay for the St. Thomas portion of Abernathy's trip. Events included visits to local schools, a religious service in Emancipation Garden and a Government House reception.
He said LEPC was aware that Abernathy had spent one stint in prison, but did not know about his return when he violated the terms of his parole. He said he thought Abernathy planned to speak on overcoming his troubled past, but learned that the press release did not contain that information.
The Night Out Against Crime Committee organized Abernathy's trip. The press release and biography were sent out by the St. John Community Foundation. Its director, Carol DeSenne, is a member of the Night Out Against Crime Committee.
Frederick said Abernathy's trip would have cost the park and the Friends of the Park a total of $20,000. He said the Friends was supplying $10,000 to help fund the festival, but the park would have had to pay the rest.
Frederick said it was fiscally irresponsible on the part of the park to spend so much money for this event.
A Feb. 4 press release from the St. John Community Foundation announced that the park was a sponsor of Abernathy's trip and that he would speak at the Folklife Festival.
Frederick said he had heard something about Abernathy's troubles with the law when the superintendent worked at the Martin Luther King National Historic Site in Atlanta, but he was not up to date on Abernathy's extensive past troubles.
"I had no idea," he said.
The park's public information officer, Beulah Dalmida-Smith, said Tuesday that Frederick was aware of Abernathy's past.
The Source reported Tuesday that Abernathy had twice served time in jail. He got out in October 2003 and is on six years probation.
In December 1999, he was convicted on 18 charges that stem from falsifying legislative expense accounts and forging vouchers for state reimbursements in the amount of $5,700 when he was a Georgia state senator.
In November 2002 he went back to jail to finish out his sentence because he violated his parole by taking $35,000 from two women who paid him to hire them an attorney in hopes of getting their loved ones out of jail.
Abernathy served three terms in the state Senate until the 1998 elections, when he was barred from seeking re-election because the $400 check he used to pay his qualifying fee bounced.
He also had other brushes with the law, including a 1997 incident when U.S. Customs officials found marijuana in his underwear when he entered the country from Jamaica through Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. He paid a $500 civil fine and was sanctioned by his state senate colleagues.
Friends President Joe Kessler said Wednesday that the park would continue its $10,000 support of the Folklife Festival, but that the organization would leave the planning up to the park.
"I'm going to leave it up to the park to use their best judgment," Kessler said.
Abernathy was also expected to speak at the 10. a.m. Feb. 27 service at Nazareth Lutheran Church.
The Rev. Carlyle Sampson, who serves as the church's pastor, said Wednesday that he was unaware of Abernathy's past problems.
"This is the first I've heard of this part of his biography. It seems like a cover-up," he said.
He said he agreed to allow Abernathy to preach when the organizers were looking for speaking opportunities for Abernathy.
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