It was easy to tell yesterday which of the houses on Arlington's North Jackson Street belonged to Charles W. Rinker: His was the house with the huge bunch of balloons tied to the hedge.
The balloon bouquet, with an accompanying card reading, "Praise the Lord," was only one of the gifts sent yesterday to celebrate the dropping of a federal indictment last week against Rinker in the Youth Pride case. It was the end of a long legal struggle for Rinker and his family. A Methodist minister, Rinker stepped down from his post as chairman of Virginia's 10th District Democratic Committee last year to fight charges of conspiracy and fraud in the operation of Youth Pride Inc., a D.C. self-help agency.
"My predominant emotion at this point is to be relieved and overjoyed that it's over," said Rinker, as he fielded congratulatory telephone calls and received a stream of exuberant visitors. "I haven't even thought about anything else."
Rinker, who has maintained his innocence throughout the proceeding, said "some people took some money they shouldn't have taken," referring to three persons who have pleaded guilty to charges related to the Pride operations. He said, however, that he still believes there is no evidence of a conspiracy to defraud the government of funds by Youth Pride or by its former director Mary Treadwell, who is now the sole defendant in the case.
"At this point I am not at all convinced that Mary is guilty of any wrongdoing," said Rinker, who worked for Youth Pride and its related business for nine years. "I think there was some mismanagement; there were some problems. She probably didn't keep close enough touch with what was going on. She's certainly guilty of that kind of thing, but that's not criminal activity."
Treadwell, Rinker and the three others had been charged in a 30-count indictment with portraying a spinoff of Youth Pride as a charitable nonprofit business while using it to fund their own profit-making enterprises and pay personal expenses.
Rinker, who had been described by investigators as a minor figure in the case, said he believed prosecutors brought questionable charges against him in a futile attempt to force him to testify against Treadwell. The charges were dropped Friday after Rinker passed a polygraph test.
"That's a hell of a way to do an indictment and handle a prosecution because it's a very serious thing," he said, adding that he and his wife Lora are considering suing the U.S. attorney's office. "I'm angry at the situation, but I think it's more like a righteous anger in the sense that if this could have happened to me it could happen to other people."
A native of Winchester, Va., Rinker said his work with Youth Pride reflected the same dedication to social justice that propelled him to study theology, participate in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and get involved in politics. He said he hoped to return to his chairmanship of the Democratic committee soon.
As a young man, Rinker joined in the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march; helped to integrate a Methodist camp in North Carolina, and participated in protests of segregation in Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey. He went to work at Youth Pride in 1969 after meeting Treadwell through a crusade against slum housing in the District. Rinker left the organization nine years later, he said, because he felt it was poorly managed.
Still, Rinker said, he has no regrets about working for the now-defunct organization. "I think Pride was a very important program, and it helped a lot of people," he said. " . . . There were some excesses. There was some bad management. But Pride was the only thing on the horizon that was beginning to deal with the problems of unemployment, of poverty and of racism."