Behind the Bey empire

Behind the Bey empire: Did real estate fraud help build Your Black Muslim Bakery into an enterprise worth killing for?

Editor’s Note: The Chauncey Bailey Project, a collaboration of local media outlets including the Guardian, is investigating the circumstances surrounding the Aug. 2 murder of Bailey, an Oakland journalist who was reporting on the financial dealings of the Bey family’s Your Black Muslim Bakery at the time he was killed. For more information, including audio, video, and updates on the case, click here.

Since 2003, Esperanza Johnson, a former key figure within Oakland’s Bey organization, and her husband, Antron Thurman, have acquired nearly $2 million worth of East Bay real estate through a string of controversial deals tainted with allegations of deceit.

In five cases those deals led to litigation. Johnson, of Antioch, who also goes by the name Noor Jehan Bey, has twice been accused of fraud. Court records indicate that one of those transactions involved falsified documents.

One sale involving Johnson, a licensed real estate broker, led to criminal charges: Alameda County prosecutors in 2006 convicted a Johnson associate on fraud charges stemming from a deal that cost an East Oakland couple their home.

A broad array of characters have tangled with Johnson and Thurman in court, including a disabled Berkeley bus porter forced from his family home, an Antioch couple now facing foreclosure, and East Bay Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds homes for the poor and struggling. Combined, they claim to have lost at least $1.77 million in property, cash and equity in the deals.

The revelations about Johnson and Thurman come as authorities scrutinize the extensive real estate dealings of the Bey family and their bankrupt business, Your Black Muslim Bakery, including Johnson’s role as the broker for an Oakland woman named Paulette Arbuckle who is attempting to buy the bakery’s San Pablo Avenue headquarters. Johnson bore four of the Bey family patriarch’s dozens of children.

Bakery CEO Yusuf Ali Bey IV, 21, jailed without bail on kidnapping and torture charges, also is charged with real estate fraud: prosecutors say he bought an Oakland property under a false identity.

And bankruptcy trustee Tevis Thompson, who is overseeing the liquidation of Your Black Muslim Bakery’s assets, has claimed in court papers that Bey IV transferred $2.28 million in bakery properties to his mother, Daulet Bey, in a bid to “defraud creditors.” The trustee has sued for those properties’ return.

Devaughndre Broussard, a 20-year-old bakery associate, is charged with the Aug. 2 shotgun slaying of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey as he walked to work in downtown Oakland. Police say Broussard made a confession – later recanted – that he killed Bailey because the journalist was working on a story about the bakery’s finances and bankruptcy case.

Johnson, whose state business registration was suspended more than a year ago for failure to pay taxes and who with Thurman has more than $1 million in state and federal tax liens recorded against them, didn’t return numerous telephone calls and emails, and didn’t answer the gate at her Antioch home on two recent occasions.

Thurman refused to speak to reporters who approached him recently in Oakland.

A Los Angeles real estate consultant who reviewed Johnson’s transactions for the Chauncey Bailey Project said the trustee and judge handling the bakery’s bankruptcy should examine Johnson’s record.

They “should be made aware that a realtor on a transaction which requires the trustee's approval has a murky… background,” said Eric Forster.

The attorney for the court appointed bankruptcy trustee charged with liquidating the bakery said Johnson’s transaction history would be probed.

“Obviously it is of some concern to us and we’re looking into it,” Eric Nyberg, attorney for trustee Tevis Thompson, said when informed of the cases.

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