Crime

As a child, he received assistance from Lessie Bates. Now he is charged with embezzling from the group.

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As former leader of the Lessie Bates Neighborhood House in East St. Louis, Christopher K. Coleman oversaw operations of the nonprofit organization before he was indicted on a charge of embezzling money from the group that had helped his family when he was a child.

Coleman, 42, of Troy, is accused of stealing an undisclosed amount of money from Lessie Bates Neighborhood House, an agency that gets federal dollars to fund its programs and services, according to the indictment. The indictment said Coleman created and used false invoices to hide what he was doing.

Coleman could not be reached for comment for this article on Thursday.

After he was named the executive director of Lessie Bates in 2016, Coleman told the BND, “I am excited and humbled to have grown up in poverty in East St. Louis and attended East St. Louis District 189 and now lead the agency that provided my family hope when I was a young boy.”

Coleman resigned in January 2018. Tax records from 2016 show that Coleman’s annual salary was $102,000 and that he received other compensation worth $16,200, according to the latest Form 990 on file with the watchdog group GuideStar.

The tax records show that Lessie Bates had $9 million in revenue in 2016, when contributions and grants totaled $7.6 million.

Coleman took over the reigns as executive director of Lessie Bates in 2016 after the retirement of Bill Kreeb, who had led the agency for 35 years.

Coleman told the BND at the time, “I was raised by a single mother until I was 10 years old. My mother then got married, but it was not to my biological father. We received services from the Neighborhood House. I remember Mr. Kreeb bringing food to our house. I did not know who he was then.”

The indictment, which was filed on Tuesday, alleges that Coleman stole money from July 2016 to December 2017 while he was serving as executive director.

Coleman “created false invoices for payment to CIG, a company owned by Coleman,” according to the indictment.

“Coleman masked the ownership of this company that was incorporated as the Coleman Investment Group. Coleman created invoices showing this business as Computerized Information Group in an attempt to conceal his ownership in this business. Coleman received excess checks in addition to his normal salary,” the indictment alleges.

Lessie Bates Neighborhood House is a nonprofit, faith-based organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for residents of all ages by providing quality early childhood development services, comprehensive youth services, individual and family support services, services to older adults and housing economic development services, which will help move individuals and families out of poverty, according to the indictment.

The case against Coleman was investigated by the Southern Illinois Public Corruption Task Force, which includes agents from the FBI, the IRS and Illinois State Police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman R. Smith is the prosecutor on the case.

“The indictment alleges that the former executive director of a faith-based, nonprofit entity embezzled money that should have been used to help those living in poverty. There is zero tolerance for those who abuse their positions of trust for personal gain,” U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft said.

“The public should know that law enforcement is doing all it can to ensure that private donations and public grant funds will be protected and used for their intended purpose,” he said.

“Investigating and prosecuting public corruption is as important as any work done in federal law enforcement. The U.S. Attorney’s office credits the IRS, FBI and Illinois State Police for their work in the Christopher Coleman case.”

Embezzling money from an organization that receives federal money carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution.

Coleman is scheduled to make his initial appearance at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis on June 25.

BND reporter Hana Muslic contributed information for this article.

Carolyn P. Smith has worked for the Belleville News-Democrat for 18 years and currently covers breaking news in the Metro-East. She graduated from the Journalism School at the University of Missouri at Columbia and says news is in her DNA.

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