Rep. Lee backs off support for Your Black Muslim Bakery
By Josh Richman, Chauncey Bailey Project
A bankruptcy court judge refused Thursday to reverse the liquidation of Your Black Muslim Bakery, even as Oakland’s congresswoman voiced regret for continuing to support the historically important community institution after its apparent slide into criminality over recent years.
“At the request of representatives of Your Black Muslim Bakery, my office provided a letter to a federal agency related to the bankruptcy,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement issued Thursday. “Like many people, I historically supported the bakery because it has been an important institution in the community, but it is clear that is no longer the case.
“Knowing what we know now, we would not have provided such support, and we are reviewing our casework intake process in an effort to avoid any such circumstance in the future,” Lee said.
Lee’s office has refused to release the letter, citing the confidentiality of constituent casework; the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to Congress.
“The casework our office provided was casework that we would provide to any constituent who came into our office,” the statement said. “Our mission has always been to serve all of our constituents equally and without preference. While this instance is an exception, we are in principle uncomfortable with the idea that federal offices should be in the habit of denying casework to anyone.”
Lee’s statement came one week after a Your Black Muslim Bakery handyman allegedly assassinated Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey with point-blank shotgun blasts on a downtown street during the morning commute. Police say Devaughndre Broussard, 19, has confessed to the slaying, calling himself a “good soldier” angered by Bailey’s past stories about the business’ legitimacy and concerned that he was working on another.
The day after Bailey’s slaying, police raided the company’s San Pablo Avenue headquarters using warrants issued earlier for investigation of other crimes. Of almost a score of men detained, four have been charged: Broussard, with Bailey’s murder; and Your Black Muslim Bakery CEO Yusuf Bey IV, 23, Tamon Oshun Halfin, 20, and Joshua Bey, 21, with kidnapping, carjacking and torture counts stemming from a May 17 incident.
But these are only the latest allegations of crime and violence leveled against the Bey family. Earlier ones had been widely publicized long before Lee’s office wrote its letter on the business’s behalf this summer.
One month after assuming the company’s top post, Yusuf Bey IV was arrested and charged in late 2005 with leading vandalism attacks on two West Oakland liquor stores. One attack was captured on a store surveillance tape. He was arrested again in February 2006, charged with having used phony identification and phony credit to obtain a $55,000 luxury car from a Vallejo used-car lot. In April 2006 he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly trying to use his BMW to run down several bouncers after being thrown out of a San Francisco strip club.
All of this followed sketchy activities under the company’s past leaders.
Yusuf Bey founded the company in the late 1960s and combined messages of black power and adherence to Islam to develop a reputation as a community leader intent upon improving the lives of young African-American men through a business empire that eventually included bakeries, schools, security services and apartments.
The empire wasn’t without well-publicized problems. The city of Oakland loaned the company $1.1 million to start a home health care business in 1996, about a year after Nedir Bey, the patriarch’s adopted son, pleaded no contest to charges that he’d beaten and tortured a man. The loan was never repaid, and the home health care business was never established.
The patriarch himself was facing charges of rape and sexual relations with minors when he died of cancer in October 2003. His successor, Waajid Aliawaad, 51, disappeared in March 2004. His body was found months later in a shallow grave in the Oakland hills. Antar Bey, the patriarch’s son and Yusuf Bey IV’s older brother, took over but was killed in an October 2005 carjacking attempt.
Yet Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums also wrote a letter on the business’s behalf this summer, albeit at the request of a family member who claims that Antar Bey, and by succession Yusuf Bey IV, had illegally seized control of the business and run it into the ground. Dellums’ letter, addressed to U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Edward Jellen, said company was “an integral part of the community, and its loss would be distressing to untold numbers of Oakland citizens.”
Dellums’ office did not return calls Thursday seeking comment.
Dellums and Lee attended Bailey’s funeral Wednesday. Dellums spoke there, praising Bailey’s contributions to the city and urging the community to unite and halt Oakland’s spiraling violence.
In a motion filed Wednesday, Your Black Muslim Bakery’s lawyer pleaded with Jellen to reconsider his ruling to take the company out of the hands of CEO Yusuf Bey IV and give it to a trustee so it could be dismantled and its assets sold off to satisfy creditors.
“Yusuf Bey has also petitioned and obtained the assistance of the office of Representative Barbara Lee’s office,” attorney Fayedine Coulter wrote in the motion. “Congresswoman Lee considers the bakery to be an asset and an institution of the community and has offered her assistance in facilitating the resolution (of) the issues with the Internal Revenue Service by directing debtor to the proper source in order to keep the bakery functioning.”
Even as Lee was issuing her statement distancing herself from the company Thursday, Jellen was denying Coulter’s motion. Jellen said the company’s circumstances since his earlier ruling for liquidation are “the same or worse” — it hasn’t filed required tax statements and reports during the voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for which it filed last October, failing to meet its obligations under state and federal law.
Coulter’s motion had cited an unnamed potential buyer who could take over the company and pay off its creditors.
But Jellen said Thursday a refinancing or sale of the business isn’t precluded by its placement in Chapter 7 liquidation status: The company is simply being put in the hands of a responsible trustee who can negotiate terms of such a sale and properly distribute proceeds to the creditors.