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Miami Herald 8/22/03
Street artist got $24,000 in program tailored for him
Miami agency also bought painter's late father's church
By Oscar Corral
Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency gave a little-known painter about $24,000
in cash and subsidies over a one-year period as part of an obscure ''Artist-in-Residence''
program tailor-made for him, not long before negotiating a deal to buy his late
Ernest King, an often-homeless street artist with a felony arrest record, received
food vouchers, clothing allowances, and even hundreds of dollars for paintings paid
by Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. and then-CRA Director Annette Lewis, who
were then reimbursed by the CRA, records from the city's finance department show.
The CRA bought the Divine Mission Church at 910 N.W. Second Ct. in Overtown in
May 2002, for $254,000 -- $112,000 more than its appraised value. The sale is now
one of the questionable CRA deals being probed by investigators from the Miami-Dade
state attorney's office and the FBI, sources familiar with the investigation said.
King received money from the CRA's Artist-in-Residence program from June 2000 until
at least Septembe 2001. The CRA did an appraisal on the church property in May 2001,
as it considered its purchase.
In a recent interview, Teele said there was no connection between the Artist-in-Residence
program and the agency's purchase of the building. The church belonged to King's
late father Clennon King, and was eventually sold to the CRA by the church board,
which was led by King's sister, Muriel King.
''Ernest King was persona non grata with his father and his sister,'' Teele said.
``He was not an heir.''
Teele said he wanted to help Ernest King because he saw him as a talented painter
who was down and out. Just three months ago, he said, he paid Ernest King's $400
rent out of his own pocket.
Teele said he gives King support because ``I have done anything I can to help talented
Ernest King was not a member of the Church of the Divine Mission board of directors.
But Muriel King, and her brother, Lee King, were.
Muriel King said that she formed a friendship with her brother's mentor, Martin
Siskind, who had helped her brother get off the streets. She said she later asked
Siskind, who runs the Advocacy Foundation in Wynwood, to help her coordinate the
sale of the church to the city.
The CRA eventually severed its ties with Ernest King because, according to Teele,
``we could never get him to take a urine test.''
Several attempts to reach King on the streets of Overtown and Liberty City, and
through Siskind, were unsuccessful.
In December 1997, King, who then lived in the church, was charged with beating
up his 77-year-old father there, police records show. A press release put out by
the church at the time said Clennon King ``ordered the arrest of his youngest son,
Ernest, for trying to kill him.''
Ernest King pleaded no contest in 1998 to aggravated assault on an elderly person
and was sentenced to time served and probation.
Clennon King kicked Ernest out of the church, leaving him homeless, and obtained
a domestic violence restraining order.
In April 2001, while King was the CRA's artist in residence, he was arrested again
for kidnapping-false imprisonment and battery, police and court records show. Both
charges were eventually dropped.
''My father and I had all kinds of problems,'' Ernest King told The Herald in an
interview in 1999. ``Lots of bad feelings. It's best I stay in the streets. I don't
want no trouble.''
After Clennon King's death in February 2000, Siskind, a local art enthusiast, found
Ernest King living on the street and decided to champion his cause, Siskind said.
Siskind hired a lawyer for King, who successfully sued to be let back into his
late father's church. Around the same time, Siskind met King's sister Muriel King,
of San Diego, who had taken over the church's board of directors soon after her
father's death by replacing other board members.
In June 2000, the CRA announced it was creating an Artist-in-Residence program
and that Ernest King would fill the job. CRA records do not include any indication
that the agency publicly announced the creation of such a program beforehand, nor
that it took applications from any other artists.
A press release that June said, ''Through the vision, creativity and continued
interest and support of our community, Chairman Arthur E. Teele, Jr., in conjunction
and approval by the Board of Directors of the [CRA], have made possible the implementation
of an Artist in Residence Program. And, designating Ernest Joe Fedler King, the
son of former Rabbi Clennon W. King, pastor and civil rights activist, as the Artist
in Residence and caretaker of the Dorsey House [historic residence],'' the press
Siskind played a role in helping King get the artist in residence program. CRA
records show that William Bloom, a lawyer for the CRA, faxed Siskind a copy of the
contract between King and the CRA the day it was signed, and Siskind signed off
on the terms.
But it wasn't long before the agency had problems with him. In January 2001, Bloom
wrote Ernest King a letter scolding him for using his CRA stipends for food to feed
''It has come to our attention that you are exceeding the dollar limit and that
you are also feeding other individuals utilizing the credits made available to you,''
By the time the contract between King and the CRA was terminated, he had received
more than $24,000 in cash and subsidies from the agency, which never revived its
Artist-in-Residence program. The CRA continued to reimburse Overtown restaurants
for Ernest King's meals until at least late September 2001, records show.
Final taxpayer payout to King from the CRA: $11,000 in rent; $7,860 for food; $2,750
in cash for his paintings; $1,495 for clothes; and $1,100 in art supplies.
Part of the money paid for his paintings came from Teele, who gave $600 to King
for three paintings, titled Freedom Tower, Aubury House and 12 Steps, in June 2001.
Then CRA-director Lewis paid him another $550 for paintings and a deposit on his
art. Both Teele and Lewis were reimbursed by the CRA, according to photocopies of
checks from the city's finance department.
Of the three paintings Teele paid for, only the painting titled 12 Steps is accounted
for at the CRA.
Both a Herald walk-through of the agency and an inventory list compiled by the
CRA recently show that Freedom Tower and Aubury House are not at the agency.
An aide at Teele's city commission office, Alexis Snyder, said the paintings are
not in Teele's City Hall offices either.
Teele could not be reached for comment Thursday. CRA Executive Director Frank Rollason
said it's possible that one of the paintings at the CRA of the Ward Rooming House
could be the Aubury House painting that Teele paid for.
In an interview, Siskind said Ernest King ''was part of the problem'' at the Divine
Mission Church in the months leading up to its purchase by the CRA.
Siskind said King would collect rent money from residents and keep it.
Siskind said the sale was above board, and that the payments to King did not influence
him to advocate good terms on the sale.
King visits the Advocacy Foundation, a nonprofit thrift store and art studio Siskind
runs in Wynwood, about twice a week, Siskind said.
''I'm the one who found him on the street,'' Siskind said. ``He's doing quite well.'