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Black chamber cuts relations with ex-chief

Members support the idea of having the state attorney look into how the former executive director handled money.

By SHARON BOND

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- The St. Petersburg Area Black Chamber of Commerce officially cut its ties with its former executive director Tuesday and discussed the possibility of going to the state attorney with information about Vincent Hopkins' handling of some of the group's money last year. "Vincent Hopkins no longer is authorized, directed, instructed or solicited to do anything in the name of the black chamber," said Darryl E. Rouson, a lawyer who is the current chairman of the board of that body.

Hopkins denied any wrongdoing and said he could document his use of the money.

Rouson received a bill for $8,975 from Hopkins' attorney that Hopkins believes he is owed for his work as executive director in the chamber's first full year of business and for out-of-pocket costs.

"This chamber will not be held hostage by Mr. Hopkins' demand for a payment of nearly $9,000," Rouson said.

After that comment, Rouson paused to praise Hopkins and the "sweat equity he put into the organization. He did something others couldn't get started."

Rouson said it was time for the chamber to move on and that current officials had not questioned a lot of things that happened in 1999. He cited an $800 payment on the books and said no one knows where the money went.

Hopkins said the $800 was paid as rent for the new chamber office in the Northern Trust Bank building. Hopkins said his was one of the names on the lease that personally guaranteed rent payment. At the time it was due, the chamber did not have the money, he said.

Speaking generally of the charges from Tuesday's meeting, Hopkins said he had retained a lawyer with Johnson Blakely Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns four or five months ago when questions about his handling of the chamber's money first came up. He also said he had hired a certified public accountant to do his own review of the books.

Rouson said at the end of the meeting that the chamber's attorney and the accountant auditing the 1999 books could recommend taking the information to the state attorney to investigate the possibility of criminal activity. He asked if the group approved of that action. Members voted yes.

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