Crime

Former director of Lessie Bates arraigned in federal court on embezzlement charge

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An AmeriCorps officials talks about the Meals on Wheels program in East St. Louis.

The former executive director of the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House was in federal court in East St. Louis to be arraigned on charges that he embezzled money from the nonprofit organization.

Christopher K. Coleman, wearing a gray suit, white shirt and a gray and white tie was seated at the defense table with his attorney, Christopher Threlkeld, of Edwardsville. He was released without bond after assuring U.S. Magistrate Judge Gilbert Sison that he understood the charges against him.

He’ll next appear in U.S. Federal Court for the Southern District of Illinois in Benton on Aug. 15. His trial will begin Aug. 26.

Coleman was flanked by the three women as he left the courthouse. His brother gave him a supportive hug. No one from Lessie Bates Davis House attended.

The federal charging document said Coleman stole money from the Methodist-run social services organization from July 2016 until December 2017. A dollar amount has not been disclosed.

If Coleman is found guilty of the embezzlement charge, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The Southern Illinois Public Corruption Task Force investigated the case.

Coleman abruptly vacated his position with Lessie Bates House in January 2018, shortly after he arrived at his office located at 1200 N. 13th St.. He began his tenure as executive director on July 1, 2016, but had worked at the organization for 17 years prior.. The 103-year-old organization is described as a comprehensive social service agency that provides food, clothing and shelter to the needy, as well as training opportunities.

Coleman’s family received help from Lessie Bates when he was a boy. The federal indictment said Coleman created fake invoices to hide the theft..

When he was named executive director in 2016 Coleman told a News Democrat reporter he was “excited and humbled to have grown up in poverty in East St. Louis ... to now lead the agency provided my family hope when I was a young boy.”

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