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Former chamber chief hires attorney
By SHARON BOND
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- The former executive director of the St. Petersburg Area Black Chamber of Commerce has hired a criminal lawyer after renewed charges by chamber officials that he misused the group's money.
Vincent Hopkins, who already was using Johnson Blakely Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns on civil matters involving his relationship with the chamber, last week hired Clearwater attorney Denis deVlaming for his criminal expertise.
"We'll be in contact with the authorities to provide" records that show Hopkins handled chamber money correctly, deVlaming said.
Hopkins' hiring of a criminal attorney followed a chamber meeting last week in which the group severed all ties with him. The chamber voted to go to the state attorney if the group's attorney and auditor recommend such an action after an audit of the chamber's 1999 finances is completed.
Chamber officials, including board chairman Darryl E. Rouson, were angered that Hopkins billed them for $8,975, which Hopkins said he spent out of his own pocket to pay chamber bills.
Hopkins helped start the black chamber last year. As part-time executive director, he said he co-mingled funds, using his own money to pay bills when the chamber's bank account was empty. He repaid himself when the chamber had money. Such action is common in the first months of new groups, Hopkins said.
Hopkins said he was advised by accountant Don Collins to stop co-mingling his money and the chamber's, so he did. Collins now is the chamber's treasurer.
"Everything I have done I can verify and document," Hopkins said.
DeVlaming, who was part of the defense team for the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, said Hopkins did not want anything to harm the chamber.
The group has ambitious goals for its second year and has received a $50,000 grant from the city of St. Petersburg. The agenda for this year includes getting a minority-owned company to locate here, bringing a national firm's convention here and assisting at least 100 businesses.
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