Walter E. Fauntroy was worried about spies. The renowned civil rights figure, who had left the District in 2012 amid mounting financial and legal troubles, was living in the United Arab Emirates and believed that his emails were being “wiped out” by American intelligence officers assigned to block his outgoing messages, according to dozens of emails obtained by The Washington Post and acknowledged as authentic by his attorney.
So Fauntroy began using an alias email address but still signed his messages with his real name or “The Congressman” — a reference to his nearly two decades as the District’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
In December 2014 from the Persian Gulf region, under the email address “Shahid Sarkar,” Fauntroy wrote to 20 friends and relatives and asked for help: Find wealthy people to lend him $105,000. He needed the money, he said, to stave off foreclosure on his Northwest Washington home and to finance his nascent humanitarian project: establishing emissions-free power plants in poor parts of the world.
“You should know that, for me personally, the SAD FACT IS that if we do not launch our Initiative . . . the last financial asset that I own — My Family Home for the past Forty-two Years will be Lost to Foreclosure and my wife, my two children and my infant Grandson will be ‘Homeless’ on the streets of the District of Columbia,” Fauntroy wrote. “I am asking you to help find me a ‘Ram in the Thicket’ of a ‘Spiritually Mature’ individual or group NOT to GIVE us $105,000 but to simply Provide us a ‘Bridge Loan’ in that amount.”
Fauntroy, now 83, didn’t find anyone to lend him the money. But the effort reveals the downward spiral of a respected activist and leader in the nation’s capital.
Fauntroy, a pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church for 50 years before retiring in 2009, helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. plan the 1963 March on Washington. Fauntroy was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and served as its chairman in 1980. But his political career came to an end in 1990 when he ran for D.C. mayor after Marion Barry was arrested on drug charges. Fauntroy lost the Democratic primary to Sharon Pratt.
Yet in the four years since he departed on a trip overseas and hasn’t returned, Fauntroy has struggled to pay off debts, ignored an arrest warrant after being accused of writing a bad check, sought a dubious and unsuccessful business deal with a man who once pleaded guilty to wire fraud, and left his wife of 58 years, Dorothy Fauntroy, in a precarious financial state.
His friends and former colleagues have expressed concern about his mental health.
“I’m a lawyer, not a mental-health professional,” his attorney, Johnny Barnes, said in an interview. “But he doesn’t seem to be himself.”
Barnes and others were dismayed by a 2015 photo of a gaunt, frail Fauntroy taken by someone in the UAE. “He clearly has a need for dental work,” Barnes said. “And he was never one to go without a tie. He’s lost weight.”
Fauntroy could not be reached for this article.
Last year, Fauntroy’s friends mounted an effort to raise money to help Dorothy, now 81, pay the mortgage on their Crestwood home, buy a washing machine and pay for car repairs. And there have been efforts to persuade Fauntroy to come home.
In 2014, Barnes said a mutual friend who was traveling to Dubai planned to meet Fauntroy at the airport, give him some money and urge him to fly home.
“He agreed to meet that person,” Barnes said, “but when she landed, he didn’t appear.”
Barnes and Fauntroy also emailed about the prospect of former defense secretary William Cohen visiting him at the Dubai airport. The rendezvous didn’t happen, and Cohen, through a spokeswoman, said he does not recall being approached about meeting with Fauntroy.
Barnes is no longer sure if Fauntroy is in Dubai or somewhere else. He said that Fauntroy stopped by the U.S. Consulate there three times in 2014 and that officials told him that Fauntroy did not want to return to the United States. When Dorothy’s attorney checked on his status again more recently, consulate officials reported back in January that they had “no information” on whether Fauntroy was in the UAE.
The State Department declined to comment for this article, citing Fauntroy’s privacy.
Fauntroy and Barnes last spoke earlier this year when Barnes told his client that a D.C. judge needed to appoint a conservator who would divvy out cash from his bank account to his wife and sign other legal documents. Fauntroy told his attorney, “Do what you have to do,” Barnes recalled.
Dorothy Fauntroy has said in interviews with The Post that she knows little about her husband’s activities overseas but bears no anger toward him for their financial difficulties. The couple’s grown children, Marvin and Melissa Alice Fauntroy, did not return calls seeking comment.
Fauntroy moved to the UAE because he believed that his friendship with a local prince could yield the money to finance his humanitarian projects, according to Sanyo Ward, a former employee of Fauntroy’s nonprofit group who kept in frequent touch with him. But Fauntroy wound up sleeping in a hostel, on a park bench and, at one point, the home of a family whose children he agreed to babysit in exchange for cash, Ward said.
During his years abroad, Fauntroy has repeatedly emailed a dozen-plus friends, colleagues and relatives, seeking money and peddling various conspiracy theories. He sounded alarms about Jews; about what he called “the Four Aristocratic Banking Families” and their “ungodly management of the financial affairs of the world;” about alleged payments of $100 billion to U.S. presidents after they complete each term in office.
“He said it was Jews who run the world and who run the banking system,” Ward said. “He’d get so hostile if you challenged his mental abilities. I’d say, ‘Walter, are you sure you’re okay?’ He’d say, ‘My dear, that’s insulting.’ ”
Walter Fauntroy’s suitcase was packed, and he was hurrying to catch a flight overseas.
It was January 2012, and a bench warrant had just been issued for his arrest in Maryland. He had failed to appear and answer charges that he wrote a bad check for $55,000 to a caterer for an ill-fated inauguration ball he had planned in 2009 for President Obama. He told his wife that he was leaving on a mission to build a school in Africa, court records show.
Ward, who saw him at his home just before he left the country, described him as frantic.
“He said ‘they’ wanted to put him in jail for 12 years,” Ward said. “He said, ‘They want me to die in prison’ and that people were trying to kill him. He pretty much dashed out of town.”
Ward, now 39, had been working for Fauntroy’s embattled nonprofit group, Fallen Soldiers, the sponsor of the inaugural ball. But their relationship had grown strained.
Two months before he left the United States, Ward filed assault charges against Fauntroy in Montgomery County, Md., claiming that he tried to run her over in a parking lot across from the DoubleTree hotel in Bethesda. Fauntroy was arrested for failing to show up at a hearing, court records show, but prosecutors dropped the case after Ward decided not to pursue it.
Once he was abroad, Fauntroy wanted to build emissions-free power plants for poor people that would convert waste into electricity in remote parts of Africa and the Middle East, according to interviews with his business partners and emails from Fauntroy that were provided to The Post.
He started a nonprofit that would manage the projects called AA GIFTS: African American Global Initiative Fostering True Sustainability.
But he alarmed his email recipients by often sending manifestoes railing against the “1% Cabal,” which he defined as “The Rulers of the Darkness of this World,” responsible for the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and his friend Martin Luther King Jr.
Fauntroy forwarded lengthy articles headlined “Six Jewish Companies Control 96% of the World’s Media,” decrying the number of American Jewish media owners, and another that was titled “How BAD the Jewish Stranglehold is now in America.”
His attorney was startled to read those messages. “All of those statements are inconsistent with his faith and with his interactions with all religions and ethnic groups for as long as I’ve known him,” Barnes said.
Leslie Dean Price, the founder of the technology company Equitech International, which holds the patents for the power plant Fauntroy wanted to finance, said the former congressman’s emails concerned him.
“Mentally, he was doing things that didn’t make sense,” said Price, 91, the former university architect at Georgetown. “He was trying to get money, but he was running ahead and doing his own thing and not touching base back here. He had his own agenda. We were beginning to worry about his mind — whether he flipped.”
Back home, his family’s finances were collapsing.
By May 2014, the Bank of New York had filed to foreclose on the Fauntroys’ longtime home, citing more than $146,000 in mortgage debt. Later that fall, over numerous emails, Fauntroy pleaded with his friends and other contacts to fund AA GIFTS or pay off his debts.
In early December 2014, Fauntroy wrote Ward, asking her to call his daughter every day on his behalf until “this crisis is over.”
“It troubles her deeply when she can’t [hear] my voice every day. I have invested so much fatherly love in her over the years that she gets depressed when she doesn’t hear a word for weeks from me,” Fauntroy wrote.
To avert foreclosure, Fauntroy tried to finesse a deal with a Wyoming-based limited liability company, Sceptre Trust Fund. The fund offered to arrange a $12.5 million “private grant” to Fauntroy’s AA GIFTS if his nonprofit wired $55,000 to a Sceptre-controlled U.S. bank account, according to Fauntroy’s broker, Zach James, who lives in North Carolina.
Sceptre’s trustee, Alan “Irish” D’Arcy, issued a memo Dec. 23, 2014, to James, spelling out the deal’s details and important instructions: “Parties hereto will destroy any and all documents connected with this transaction.”
Fauntroy was so excited about his anticipated windfall that the next day, he wrote his daughter a long letter that he emailed only to what he called his team, but not to her.
“Dear Melissa, As you know by now, I will have to miss another Christmas and New Year’s Day Holiday with you, Marvin and Mommy . . . I can say to you for certain that I will be coming home to see you, Mommy and Marvin in mid-January but also hold and kiss my new ‘Prince of a Grandson’. . . ”
He told his daughter that he had been awarded a “$50 million Humanitarian Grant” to launch his AA GIFTS initiative and that she would enjoy part of the riches. He promised her a salary of $36,000 that she’d earn from managing “the delivery of automobiles to the nonprofit’s staff.” Also, AA GIFTS would rent her a three-bedroom townhouse in wealthy Potomac and then purchase an estate.
“Let me say this about Potomac, Md. You want to rear [my grandson] and enroll him in the ‘Best Schools’ that America has to offer,” Fauntroy wrote. “We are on our way to the ‘Best Years of Our Lives,’ Darling. Love you, Darling. ‘Keep the Faith’!!! Daddy.”
Barnes said he did not pass along Fauntroy’s letter to Melissa, and it’s unclear if she has read it.
Ultimately, Fauntroy couldn’t come up with the money for the grant. Whether he knew it or not, he avoided a deal with a man who had been convicted of a felony. In 2010,D’Arcy, Sceptre’s director, pleaded guilty in federal court in South Carolina to two counts of wire fraud after promising undercover FBI agents posing as investors that they would receive $250 million over 10 months if they initially invested $50 million with his company, court records show. D’Arcy was sentenced to three years of probation.
In an interview, D’Arcy, 78, denounced his conviction as the result of entrapment.
He said he didn’t know or remember Fauntroy because he had dealt with his broker, James. He emphasized that the proposed agreement never came to fruition and that Fauntroy’s nonprofit wouldn’t have received the $12.5 million all at once, but instead over a period of time. Such deals, D’Arcy said, are “regulated very heavily.”
But some of Fauntroy’s friends, aware of his attempted financial deals, were alarmed.
“I hope that Walter will find other sources of funding that will not create more troubles for an already almost hopeless situation that surrounds him now,” one friend, Antonio Betancourt, wrote in a January 2015 email to a few of Fauntroy’s colleagues.
Not only was Fauntroy failing to woo donors, but later that month, he was struggling to access his bank funds. In an email to James in mid-January 2015, Fauntroy said he wandered the streets of Ajman, just north of Dubai, looking for Citibank offices after an ATM ate his debit card.
“For two days, I walked for hours to places people remembered seeing a Citibank location only to return exhausted, having seen no such office at the locations to which I was [directed],” Fauntroy wrote. “Between my mounting bills at the Internet cafes that I have to use to get access to a computer, paying rent for sleeping place on the floor of this [hostel] and eating on credit at the one restaurant that would feed me on that basis, I had no money to ask a taxi cab to find the place.”
Fauntroy said he was later told that he needed to order a new ATM card.
The next month, two friends in Texas, Jimmy and JoAnne Moriarty, came up with a plan to help Fauntroy. The oil technology executives — who had met Fauntroy in Libya years earlier — would gift him about 40,000 Iraqi dinars. The couple were convinced that the currency would be revalued at a high exchange rate, ultimately netting Fauntroy as much as $80,000.
“He’s a good guy, and he was beaten up by the system. He really is a good man,” said Jimmy Moriarty, whose business was facing its own financial difficulties. “If we could have sent him real money, believe me — we would have done that.”
They said they sent the dinars to Ward so she could one day exchange them for U.S. dollars and send the windfall to Fauntroy. But in early March, Jimmy Moriarty emailed Fauntroy, saying that the Obama administration was delaying the revaluation.
“The problem is not Iraq, it is the U.S.,” Jimmy wrote.
That same day, Walter and Dorothy filed for bankruptcy protection. The couple’s petition was later dismissed because Walter failed to undergo credit counseling.
Earlier this year, a D.C. judge — acting on Dorothy’s petition — declared her husband as legally “disappeared.” The judge granted her a protective order, authorizing a conservator to provide her access to half the funds in their bank account — a mix of his pension and Social Security benefits — and sign documents on his behalf so she can save their home from foreclosure.
Meanwhile, Walter’s precise whereabouts remain a mystery.
Barnes said he was walking into his office last month and heard the phone ringing. Barnes picked it up, but the person on the other end had hung up.
He looked at the caller ID. A Dubai number that Fauntroy had used before to contact him.
“I didn’t call back, because he always would call me right back on my cell,” Barnes said. “He was usually persistent to get me. But this time, he wasn’t.”
Since that missed phone call, Barnes said that he hasn’t heard from Fauntroy.