- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Minuteman Project has been hobbled by a court fight over finances — with a judge setting an April 25 hearing to discuss issues of credibility.

In the meantime, Orange County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Randell L. Wilkinson has denied a request by James Gilchrist, the founder of the border-patrol group, to be returned as the group’s leader and placed restrictions on three advisory board members who sought to have him removed.

Citing “serious issues concerning the credibility” on both sides, Judge Wilkinson set the hearing to give Mr. Gilchrist a chance to convince the court the Minuteman Project should not be handed over to a court-appointed third party to manage the group’s assets until the issue of who controls the organization is decided.

Judge Wilkinson also ruled that the board members, who voted in January to remove Mr. Gilchrist following charges of shoddy accounting practices and possible fundraising improprieties, could not spend donations made to the group pending the trial.

Board members Marvin L. Stewart, Barbara Coe and Deborah Ann Courtney took over the Minuteman Project, citing what they called “gross mismanagement” by Mr. Gilchrist. In an interview, Mr. Stewart said Mr. Gilchrist and other Minuteman Project leaders had not been able to account for $400,000 of the $750,000 a direct-mail company helped raised last year for the organization.

“We believe it is absolutely necessary to have an open and aboveboard review of the Minuteman Project’s administrative functions,” Mr. Stewart said. “We want to assure our members who have placed their trust in us to defend and protect them when the federal government fails to enforce immigration law.”

Mr. Stewart said Mr. Gilchrist did not obtain nonprofit status for the Minuteman Project and improperly used a discount postal rate to solicit donations. He also said Mr. Gilchrist and the organization’s executive director, Steve Eichler, used Minuteman Project funds for personal gain.

An attorney who represents the board members, Jim Lacy, called the judge’s decisions “a huge loss for Gilchrist,” saying that had he tried to work out the issues with his clients, “he would have absolutely no vulnerability.”

Mr. Gilchrist dismissed the accusations, vowing a court fight to oust the directors. He told The Washington Times the takeover was illegal, but acknowledged the bitter internal battle could lead to the organization’s demise.

“It certainly could come to that,” he said. “But I intend to do everything I can to keep that from happening. The movement is too important not to try.”

He said that Mr. Stewart and others were seeking to “hijack the Minuteman Project” with false accusations and that as advisory board members they had no legal authority to vote his ouster. In court papers, he accused his opponents of hacking into the Minuteman Project Web site, stealing money from its bank accounts and diverting other cash belonging to the organization to accounts they control.

Lawyer Mark Brown, who represents Mr. Gilchrist, called the judge’s rulings as “an important victory,” saying board members were prohibited from using Minuteman Project funds in their case.

Mr. Gilchrist and former Tombstone, Ariz., newspaper publisher Chris Simcox co-founded the Minuteman Project as a border vigil of civilian volunteers in 2005 to bring national attention to a rising flood of illegal immigration over the Southwest border.

The two men split in December 2005 after bitter disagreements over funding. Mr. Simcox has since formed the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, whose financial accountability also has been questioned by some current and former members.

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