Los Angeles’ most prominent black church, First AME Church is suing its former minister and his wife, along with seven trustees and employees of the church's non-profit arm, accusing them of financial mismanagement.
For the first time, in an exclusive interview with NBC4, Denise Hunter publicly denied the allegations against her and her husband, Rev. John Hunter, who was forced out after serving eight years with the congregation amid questions over his use of church credit cards and a settlement in a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Denise Hunter called the allegations a "witch hunt."
"We believe the lawsuit is totally frivolous," Hunter, president of F.A.M.E. Corporations, told NBC4. "This was all orchestrated with the intent to damage my reputation and my husband’s reputation.
"But, I think for the people who have known me and my husband, the work we do in the community will speak for itself," she said.
The lawsuit also seeks to remove Denise Hunter as head of F.A.M.E., the church’s non-profit corporation which provides communiy and business development, housing, transportation and health services to low- and moderate-income people in South Los Angeles.
Denise Hunter continues to act as F.A.M.E.'s president despite her husband having been fired. Her husband appointed her to the position while he was pastor, according to the lawsuit.
The suit alleges the couple and a "small group of Stewarts and Trustees of FAME" conspired to stage a "coup," taking control of FAME Corporations for their own financial gain.
Hunter believes she has the right to control the charity’s finances because non-profits are incorporated separately from the church.
"So the church would not be able to dictate what happens in the corporations," she said. "It just doesn’t work that way. We are separate corporate entities."
A court will decide whether, as the lawsuit claims, the church has legal control over the charities.
Since being fired from First A.M.E. Church, Rev. John Hunter's health has suffered due to stress, according to his wife, who would not go into detail.
The reverend was reassigned to Bethel A.M.E. Church in San Francisco, but his new congregation has not been welcoming. He was turned away at the door the first day he showed up to preach in November 2011. During his next visit the following week, most of the congregation walked out and he has not returned since.
On Dec. 18, 2012, the A.M.E. Judicial Council ruled the San Francisco congregation broke church rules when they refused to allow the reverend to enter the church, and Hunter hopes to reutn to his new job as soon as Sunday, if his health permits.
Denise Hunter said she considered walking away from her job as president of F.A.M.E. Corporations due to the accusations, but decided to stay and fight.
"I don't think I'm the only person who can do this," she told NBC4. "But for now, I'm the right person to do this."