Class action alleges Southeast Texas TEA Party defrauded donors

David Yates Feb. 28, 2011, 11:00am

File photo of the 2009 Tax Day TEA Party rally in Beaumont.

Several area residents have banded together and filed suit against the Southeast Texas TEA Party Patriots and its director, Ralph McBride, alleging the political organization defrauded donors.

On behalf of themselves and those similarly situated, Peggy Denson, Charles Henson, Mitzi Toups, William Lucas, Theresa Kelly, Jalina Stutte, Laurie Ingram and Jack Simmons filed their suit on Feb. 23 in Jefferson County District Court.

The petition states that in early 2009, a number of Southeast Texas residents began organizing a local component of the national TEA Party movement.

The focal point of the initial organization was a protest held April 15, 2009, as the Southeast Texas Record previously reported.

To fund the event, organizers began soliciting "contributions from like-minded citizens."

Those who contributed were dubbed "members" and were encouraged to donate monthly, the suit states.

"Without the knowledge of most of these founding members, three of the organizers, including defendant Ralph McBride, Jeff Lake and Brad Lewis, surreptitiously filed documents with the state of Texas, creating an entity called the Southeast Texas TEA Party Patriots Inc. as a nonprofit corporation," the suit states.

While creating the organization, McBride elected that "the corporation will not have members," making individuals who thought they were members to be officially listed as voiceless donors.

"Defendant McBride ... continued to solicit contributions from plaintiffs ... for two years," the suit states.

"Defendants never disclosed to plaintiffs the formulation of the corporation, or that they were not actually members or that the money they were contributing was being solely managed and controlled by the directors."

In their suit, the plaintiffs allege the directors refuse to hold elections, disclose an accounting of funds, or give donors a voice in its affairs.

Seeking an award of actual and economic damages, they are accusing the defendants of fraud, negligent misrepresentation and theft.

No attorney is listed in the suit.

Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. E189-445

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