HOUSTON – Bernice Duff held community activist Quanell X in high regard.
"I thought of Quanell X as a leader," she said. "Because that's what you see on the news is him helping people."
So when Duff had a problem, especially one she thought involved an injustice, she went to the activist for help. Her son Devin had been charged with murder, and she believed he was innocent.
"This was a time when I was vulnerable, I was emotional,” Duff said.
But when she spoke with Quanell X, she said she got, not one, but two surprises.
"He told me to come up with $2,000 and he can help me," Duff said.
The second thing Duff said she didn't see coming was a contract the activist required her to sign. The I-Team shared a copy with longtime activist and historian of activism Lecia Brooks, with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"It's just ridiculous," she said.
Brooks is not an attorney, but she said not only is it highly unusual for an activist to make those seeking help sign a contract, but called the one used by Quanell X grossly one-sided.
"This is what I'm going to do, this is what you have to pay me, and by the way, if you lie to me, then I don't have to do anything," she said.
Brooks was referring to some of the language in the contract, including “if at any time we find out from working the case that the complaint is not factual … we reserve the right to step away." In that event, the Quanell X contract states “we reserve the right to use any funding left over."
So the I-Team had some questions for Quanell X himself about the document.
I-Team: “It seems very one sided."
Quanell X: "No, to me it's not."
I-Team: “You're kidding me."
Quanell X: "No, it's not very one sided."
I-Team: "When viewers see this they're not going to see that it's totally in your favor? It's 'give me the money, and if we find one little thing wrong, we get to keep your money.'”
Quanell X: “Well, that's never been the case."
The activist also said it's common for people to be less than truthful when claiming racial injustice and the contract is to legally protect him.
"At least 60 percent are not telling the truth" said Quanell X. "That hurts, that's painful, but it's true."
But the I-Team also wanted to know how the monies that come in are handled.
I-Team: "Do they go into Quanell X's checkbook?"
Quanell X: “No they don't go into my quote, unquote checkbook, but a lot the resources are given to me, and I personally, with the help of my secretary, keep the books."
He said the books are kept with the non-profit corporations he’s incorporated with the State of Texas. But the I-Team has learned there’s just one problem with that—Uncle Sam. Neither of his non-profits, the New Black Muslim Movement nor the New Black Muslims for Christ the Messiah, have filed the proper Internal Revenue Service forms.
I-Team: “You have not filed anything the way the law requires.”
Quanell X: “We have made some errors and we're working to get that corrected."
I-Team: "Is there openness and transparency with your finances?"
Quanell X: "Yes, there is absolutely, and we're willing to provide that documentation.”
I-Team: “I'd love to see it.”
Quanell X: "Well, we'll work on getting it to you Jeremy."
However, a few weeks after our interview, Quanell X told the I-Team his attorney had advised him not to release any financial records.
So the question remains, how much money are we talking about?
In our sit-down interview, Quanell X told the I-Team his organizations take in less than $40,000 a year. But since he hasn’t filed those IRS forms, there’s no way to know.
Back to the case of Bernice Duff, she complains that although Quanell X worked on her son's case, he eventually stopped helping.
Quanell said no, the case is not complete.