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On a Saturday in August, police sent a confidential informant to a run-down, two-story, black-and-white home in Toledo’s central city.
The informant walked up the few steps to a narrow wooden porch to the front door, where a young man sold the informant crack cocaine.
The next night, dozens of young people filled the front rooms of the home, sat on folding chairs, or stood along the half-white, half-black walls and listened to a 56-year-old man who billed himself as their father figure.
That man says he would save them, keep the streets from swallowing them, keep them out of gangs and away from drugs. He would put a little money in their pockets if they’d show up to the weekly Boss Angels Inc. meetings and just behave.
The Rev. Charles “Slim” Lake is that man.
That’s who he says he is. That’s who he believes he is.
On that Sunday, he probably had no idea that only days later police would search the home and he’d be escorted in handcuffs from his home at 1038 Hamilton St. — the headquarters for his nonprofit program for at-risk youth — accused of drug activity.
Police said they found drugs inside the Boss Angels headquarters, a charge that could ruin the youth program’s reputation. Lake says he’s innocent and that his organization will prevail.
“We are going against all the odds,” said Lake, a former crack addict turned street preacher who was released from prison in 2010 after a six-year stint for forgery, money laundering, and engaging in corrupt acts. “The odds are stacked against this organization. Why? Because I’m Reverend Slim Lake. There’s a lot of things going on, but the odds are stacked against us, but you know we’re going to win it.”
Lake doesn’t hide his past. In a way, it’s part of his pitch: When trying to preach on the streets, when trying to save the most at-risk, it helps to have a shared history. But Lake’s claim that his history is just that, history, doesn’t jibe with police reports and the talk on some street corners.
Those pages and those people say Lake is still tied to drugs and that he still takes advantage of Toledo’s most vulnerable, the very people he claims to serve.
The Rev. Slim
Lake is a self-styled preacher. He’s tall and slender, with long dreadlocks half pulled back into a low ponytail. He wears a gold-tone watch on each wrist.
He was born in Memphis, raised in a Baptist church as the youngest of six children. His family lived in Tennessee until he was 19, when they moved to Toledo. For two years, he attended the University of Toledo, where he studied computer programming.
He dropped out because he never wanted to be there. He enrolled after he “caught a case,” figuring that being a black man who earned good grades in college could keep him out of the joint.
It did. For a while.
In 1977, he shot a friend in the head. Lake calls it an accident.
The man survived the injuries, but Lake started on a downward spiral: He was homeless and used crack cocaine. He trafficked in prescription drugs and eventually moved on to cocaine and prostitutes.
Lake talks a good game. He’s had practice.
In 1990, he founded the now-defunct God’s Church of the Streets and hosted weekly services in Gunckel Park. Scores of people met him there every week. He fed them and doled out cash if someone needed it.
It sounded promising, and for a time it was.
Lake was convicted in 2001 of two counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity for charging unlawfully high interest rates on loans he made and for a community control violation on a 1997 conviction for trafficking in food stamps. He was sentenced to five years in prison but was released in 2003.
In 2004 he was found guilty in Wood County Common Pleas Court of six felony charges — engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, three counts of money laundering, and two counts of forgery — and then sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in 2010 but remains on parole until 2015, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
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Back at it
When police executed their search warrant the night of Aug. 14 at the Hamilton Street home, the department’s vice and SWAT units found Lake just inside the front door, according to a police report.
They found hundreds of pills, marijuana, digital scales, plastic baggies, ledgers, a gun magazine, a bullet, and $1,194 cash in dresser drawers and kitchen cabinets, police said.
For that, Lake was charged with four counts each of aggravated possession of drugs and aggravated trafficking in drugs; two counts each of aggravated possession of drugs and aggravated trafficking in drugs; and one count each of trafficking in drugs and trafficking in marijuana.
A Lucas County Common Pleas Court grand jury indicted Lake; he is scheduled for an April 7 trial.
John Karlvillis Oliver, 23, of the Hamilton address, also was charged in that bust. Charges against him in Toledo Municipal Court were trafficking in marijuana and three counts each of aggravated trafficking in drugs and aggravated possession of drugs. On Feb. 20, a Lucas County grand jury declined to indict Mr. Oliver.
“I guaranteed the kids that what’s pending now will be dismissed, because I’m innocent,” Lake said.
He declined to comment further on the raid and the pending case against him. His attorney, Richard Roberts, also declined to comment.
State corrections officials said the charges alone are not enough to violate Lake’s parole terms. A spokesman said the parole officer “addressed the behavior” and linked Lake to “chemical-dependency programming.” The spokesman could not comment on whether Lake attended any classes or rehab.
“I’m quite sure that the allegations are going to hurt this organization,” Lake said of Boss Angels. “... Once I’m exonerated, I will demand that The Blade write an article. I will demand it.”
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Boss Angels Inc.
In November, 2012, Lake founded Boss Angels Inc. in hopes of fulfilling a youth-movement “prophecy” that he wrote about in the 612-page The Now Testament Featuring the New Gospel, which he authored while incarcerated.
Every Sunday since the start of Boss Angels — Boss stands for “building our support system” — children, some as young as 8, meet at his Hamilton Street home for a little preaching, a little teaching, and some business.
The purpose, Lake said, is to orient young people toward service projects to build self-esteem. The Boss Angels have given out household products to those who might need it — once in East Toledo, another time to residents of the McClinton Nunn Homes, a set of public housing complexes off Nebraska Avenue in the central city.
The kids get a stipend for every Sunday meeting they attend. Younger children get $5, older kids $7. If they misbehave, they lose a dollar. Act up twice, lose $2. Three strikes means no cash.
“We want to get them started right now on that frame of mind. A business. A professional. We want them to be professional,” Lake said. “We don’t have professional gang members. We don’t have professional murderers or professional drug dealers.”
Recently, Lisa Kuch, 37, of Toledo visited Lake at the Hamilton Street home, the Boss Angels headquarters. She said she sends her two sons — 16 and 13 — to the weekly meetings. She’s aware of the pending drug charges but will send her children regardless.
Lake said the drug charges pending against him “don’t fit the pattern” because he hasn’t been charged with drug-trafficking offenses since 1990 when he “gave my life over to God.”
“Drugs and God don’t mix,” he said.
Though Lake professes his innocence and says that part of his life is in the past, who he was — or is — has caused some to distance themselves from him.
Boss Angels has attempted partnerships with other organizations. It has ties to Toledo’s BE Successful Team, or BEST, an organization headed by Tim Black, a former Toledo Public Schools administrator who retired from the district in 2011.
Brian Murphy, TPS chief of staff, said Rosa Parks Elementary was approached by Mr. Black about piloting a program at the school for a potential larger partnership with TPS. The group hosted an event at Rosa Parks on March 6. No contract was ever signed with the group; they received no compensation from the district.
The event was essentially a motivational speech, “about living up to goals and following your dreams,” Mr. Murphy said. It was after school and considered to be a “community event” with dozens of students, staff, and parents in attendance.
Speakers included Mr. Black, Rosa Parks Principal Angela Hickman-Richburg, Assistant Principal James Jones, and Lake.
After the event, several people expressed concern to TPS officials about Lake and Boss Angels’ presence at the school, Mr. Murphy said.
Mr. Murphy said that district officials were unaware in advance that Lake would be present at the event.
As soon as district officials learned that Lake was involved with the Toledo’s BEST group, TPS severed ties with it. Mr. Murphy said the concerns raised with TPS were about Lake’s past and about the safety of children.
“The safety of our kids ... is a priority in our district,” Mr. Murphy said. “We are not satisfied with Toledo’s BEST. We are not satisfied that this individual was brought in, and we do not condone it.”
In March, 2013, the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office granted Boss Angels — incorporated by Lake, Melvin Willis, and John Oliver — nonprofit status.
Lake said the organization started with about $22,000 from family and his own savings.
He sells his book online. Used copies can be purchased on Amazon.com for a penny; new it’s $12.42. Proceeds go to Boss Angels, Lake said. His spokesman, Eddie Allen, Jr., a former Blade reporter, did not have an exact total of books sold or revenue but said the first printing of 500 copies is gone.
Other funding comes from donations — all of the work Boss Angels does is charitable. It provides transportation for those who need it, laundry services, and offers a “safe haven” on Hamilton, hoping those whom it helps will give back whatever they can, Lake said.
Boss Angels has not filed a 2013 tax return because it did not receive enough money, Lake said. He said he does not know how much money was earned or donated to the organization last year.
In February the organization started airing a commercial on WTVG-TV, a cable network, and a religious station to solicit donations. The advertising cost the organization $12,000, Lake said.
Boss Angels is Lake’s full-time job, though he said he does not receive a salary. His lifestyle, he says, costs little.
Every week for at least two decades in the 1980s and 1990s, Lake received $262.32 in disability payments for injuries he suffered while working for the city’s solid waste department. In 2001, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation told The Blade that Lake suffered work-related injuries that caused “sprains and strains of [his] neck, hip, thigh, and [back],” “contusions to the face and scalp,” and a “depressive disorder.”
Melisa Vince, a bureau spokesman, would not comment on whether Lake still receives any benefits.
Police aren’t the only ones that say Lake hasn’t changed. Some homeless advocates say he takes advantage of people who find themselves with nowhere left to turn.
Through Boss Angels, Lake says he offers “money management” services. He works with “poor people” and “drug users” by controlling the monthly allowance his clients receive to their Supplemental Security Income cards.
When asked if Lake holds SSI cards for people, Mr. Allen declined to let Lake comment.
“We’re not discussing things that could potentially implicate him,” Mr. Allen said.
Lake said that once he navigates a client through a month, whatever money is left goes to Boss Angels. Ms. Kuch said Lake has managed her money and that she trusts him to do so.
Others claim Lake is ripping them off, loaning money to people who are hard-up and charging exorbitant interests rates.
“I’m afraid of the guy myself,” said Nancy Ann Jones, 46, a homeless woman in Toledo. “I’m afraid of the guy, the reverend, I’d like to never see him again. He put a lot of fear in me. I don’t deserve that.”
In January, Jones told police that she borrowed $50 from Lake to buy medication. Jones said she has a terminal liver disease, a lung disorder, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
On Jan. 11, Jones met Lake and gave him her SSI card so he could take back the $50 she owed. He then told her she owed $100, Jones said during an interview with The Blade.
He came back with her card, asked her to get into his vehicle, and then drove her to a nearby spot where he smacked Jones three times and choked her, according to a Toledo police report. Jones told police that Lake threatened to kill her if she called police. She also alleged that the $633 on her SSI card was gone.
Jones said she did not pursue criminal charges.
“He was going to have me killed,” Jones said. “I’m not going to deal with that. I’m battling death as it is.”
Jones became homeless about a year ago, she said, after spending time in the Lucas County jail for theft charges filed in Oregon.
Ken Leslie, a homeless advocate, said he is aware of “at least a dozen people” who have taken loans from Lake and are struggling to pay back the debt and interest.
“It breaks my heart to see my friends hung up with him and taken advantage of,” Mr. Leslie said. “It outrages me. ... It’s great that it’s coming to light.”
Outside St. Paul’s Community Center, a shelter near downtown for men with mental illness, a man said he borrowed money from Lake only to be told to repay a grossly higher sum. The man, who spoke to a Blade reporter on the condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety, said Lake has threatened him.
A person who works in the homeless shelter system said Lake is a constant, yet unseen, presence near Toledo shelters. He never goes in the shelters — he’s been banned from at least one — but his car is often parked outside, or shelter residents are on the phone with him.
Lake denies the allegations. He denies charging anyone an interest rate on a loan.
“A card is nothing. A money card is nothing. It just takes [an 800] number ... and that card disappears,” Lake said. “So it’s not like you’re being held hostage. You can, any second, you can make that card disappear. The power is in their hands, not mine.”
And anyway, he says, that stuff’s all in the past.