Yusuf Bey built business empire with questionable tactics
By Mary Fricker, Bob Butler and Thomas Peele, The Chauncey Bailey Project
Yusuf Bey took great pride in being a successful black businessman.
He built Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland into a well-known Bay Area business that at its height in the mid-1990s had eight bakery outlets and several wholesale clients. Over time he and members of his bakery family operated at least eight other businesses, including dry cleaning, laundry, grocery, elementary school and security companies and a nonprofit.
At various times they had an estimated 25 to 100 workers and annual revenues of about $2 million, based on company statements, business credit reports and competitors. Chauffeurs drove Yusuf Bey around in a Mercedes.
“The bakery is Bey’s mosque, and business is his altar,” Oakland freelance writer Patty Sullivan wrote in a lengthy profile of Bey and his bakery in The (East Bay) Monthly in 1995.
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He also became a substantial real estate investor in Oakland, often with members of his bakery family. They owned the large Your Black Muslim Bakery building with upstairs apartments on San Pablo Avenue, which they bought in 1978. They also eventually owned two two-story buildings across the street, four duplexes and two single-family homes.
Bey described himself as a self-made man who founded a “multimillion-dollar chain of natural ingredient bakeries.”
But he broke some rules to get there, records show — all of which reduced his costs and boosted his profits. In business terms, he was an unfair competitor, a businessman whose success was built in part on having an unfair advantage.
At the bakery, he often violated labor laws. For example, he employed child labor, including kids from his elementary school who marched across the street to work for him, employees said, despite state and federal prohibitions against children younger than 18 working around bakery machinery. He had people working well beyond the legal eight-hour day, 40-hour week without paying overtime. Some said they worked from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. baking, delivering and caring for children at the elementary school.
“Every day we was baking. I just remember just being on my feet all day working. Wrapping, twisting, working the oven,” said one woman who lived and worked at the bakery as a child, in a sworn deposition in 2005. The deposition was taken in connection with a lawsuit she and others filed accusing Bey of sexual abuse. For her protection, she is identified in the deposition as “Doe 2.”
Within the bakery family, Yusuf Bey’s work regimen was viewed as teaching children the value of work, strengthening the ties of the large family, contributing to the common good and living a spiritual life. Some of Bey’s own 42 children who grew up in this environment recall it fondly and have remained close to their half-brothers and -sisters into adulthood.
Bey persuaded his many women, children and Muslim followers to work for the bakery as a religious duty. Saying he was providing a community service, he gave jobs to ex-felons who needed work and were willing to accept low pay.
Bey ignored the minimum wage, often partly paying people by giving them a bed to sleep in and sometimes not paying them at all, thereby avoiding Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and other employment-related taxes, wage records show. On the rare occasion when workers complained, they ran the risk of being beaten up, according to police reports.
In the last decade of his business life, he reduced his tax burden by not paying all the taxes he owed. Repeatedly, city, county, state or federal governments had to file liens against the bakery, for its failure to pay garbage fees, county business taxes, property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and payroll taxes.
From 1993 to Bey’s death in 2003, these agencies filed 29 liens totaling $163,000 against the bakery, according to county records. The bakery eventually paid 80 percent of what it owed on these liens, but often the payments were three to nine years late.
Bey engaged in a sophisticated, decades-long scheme of welfare fraud, and he commingled his welfare proceeds with bakery receipts, three women said in sworn depositions in 2005. The benefits may have boosted his business revenues by $100,000 a year for some years, according to research by The Chauncey Bailey Project.
“It was obviously part of his business plan. It was like an organized, systematic exploitation of the system,” said Oakland attorney Edwin Wilson Jr. Wilson represented Alameda County in a 2003 lawsuit where women described the welfare abuse. He found the testimony to be completely credible, he said.
After Yusuf Bey died in 2003 at age 67, and two men who succeeded him were killed, many longtime members of the bakery left, fearful of the violence. Bey’s son Yusuf Bey IV took control of Your Black Muslim Bakery in late 2005.
In the two years that Bey IV ran the bakery, he said he tried to run it like his father did, but he had little success.
For one thing, he attracted workers who were less religious and less loyal to the bakery than in his father’s time.
“We don’t do what we in the streets for “… for the sake of righteousness, we do it ’cause we greedy, we do it ’cause we ain’t got (expletive), ’cause we trying to get something,” bakery employee Devaughndre Broussard told deputy district attorney Chris Lamiero, according to a transcript of a March interview.
Broussard said he once left the bakery out of frustration at not getting paid.
“I said, ‘I’m tired of sacrificing, man.’ “… I said, ‘Man, I got bills to pay,'”‰” Broussard told Lamiero.
Bey IV was involved in several violent incidents, according to multiple criminal charges against him. His bakery was dangerously unsanitary, said health officials who closed it after police found filth, including dead rats and rat droppings, during an Aug. 2, 2007, raid.
Bey IV was forced to file for bankruptcy reorganization in October 2006, only a year after he took over as CEO. Records in that filing show the bakery owed $200,000 to the IRS, $700,000 on the bakery building mortgage, $94,300 in taxes to the state and $110,000 to two private parties.
In August 2007 the bankruptcy trustee ordered the business liquidated, saying Bey IV was reporting revenue of only $6,500 a month.
Ali Saleem Bey, Yusuf Bey’s son-in-law, said most of the Bey family left the bakery after Yusuf Bey died and his chosen successor, Waajid Aljawwaad, was slain.
“Most of the Bey family was never involved in illegal activity. We were there to run the business. We don’t have criminal records,” Saleem Bey said.
Chauncey Bailey Project reporters and researchers contributed to this story.
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