A judge ordered controversial community organizer Clarence “Shahid” Freeman be held on $10,000 bond this morning for allegedly attempting to extort money and other favors from the Palm Beach County Schools superintendent and others.
According to a pre-trial release order, Freeman is barred from having contact with any school district employees — other than his longtime girlfriend, who is an employee of the district. He is also barred from being on any school district grounds.
Freeman — who is a director of not-for-profit program Dot’s Success Academy, which helps at-risk youth — was arrested Tuesday evening on charges of threat or extortion and bribery-unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior.
Freeman allegedly used an anonymous letter that claimed that Superintendent Wayne Gent had engaged in sex acts with district employees to try to get the district to pay $895,000, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The $895,000 would be both a settlement for district employee Brantley Sisnett, who is being investigated by the district’s employee relations department, and would also “take care of everybody” to make the claims in the letter go away, Freeman allegedly told Gent.
Freeman also asked Gent to institute a Saturday morning reading program — provided by Dot’s Success Academy — in 25 district schools at the cost of $29,000, and to move a specific charter school to a different location so it could have higher student enrollment, according to the affidavit.
Police worked with Gent to have him use recording devices during meetings and phone calls with Freeman.
During one meeting, at Havana restaurant in West Palm Beach, after Gent asks Freeman whether paying the settlement to Sisnett would make the letter go away, Freeman is allegedly recorded as saying, “By doing that, everything is dead. That’s a guarantee. This is my show, Mr. Gent.”
School board chairman Chuck Shaw said today that he was pleased that the district was able to work with the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office on this case.
“We believe the district and the taxpayers of Palm Beach County were the victims of an attempted extortion,” Shaw said. He said he is just watching now to see the process take its course.
Freeman’s attorney, Richard Tendler, said he and his client deny the allegation, adding that “Every police report I’ve ever read is one-sided. It’s a document that’s meant to get you arrested. We look forward to all the facts coming out.”
“Mr. Freeman is a respected member of our community,” Tendler added. ” He has helped many families throughout the years, working tirelessly for families and doing tremendous volunteer work for decades.”
Over the years, Freeman, whose real middle name is Eugene, has been involved with several school district issues — including championing eight black Park Vista High students last year, who said they were discriminated against during cheerleader tryouts.
Freeman, 61, tried to run for the county school board in 2006 but was ineligible because of a felony for a 1974 conviction of armed robbery.
Over the summer, Freeman was removed from his position as a leader of the get-out-the-vote effort by the Palm Beach County Democratic Party after he was accused of collecting money from Latin American immigrants in exchange for helping them in their dealings with immigration authorities.
Also this month, Freeman and the other heads of Dot’s Success Academy were sent cease-and-desist letters from the school district after the district said it found a letter where the organization used the district’s logo and designs as letterhead.
In letters dated Feb. 12, school district general counsel Sheryl Wood told Dot’s Success Academy leaders that the nonprofit organization was not authorized to use the district’s logo, name, design or graphics.
She wrote that the use “is misleading in that such use suggests that the School Board is affiliated with, supports, approves, and/or endorses the content of letters written and signed by you.”
Along with the letters, Wood forwarded a copy of a letter signed by Freeman.
The letter is addressed to another organization, thanking that organization, Friends4Kids-OperationHOBO, for donating to Dot’s. At the top of the letter is the district’s logo and “The School District of Palm Beach County” written out like letterhead.