The Rev. Bruce Wall, one of Boston’s most prominent black community leaders, said Thursday that he has stepped down as head of a Dorchester advocacy group that sent a $105,000 invoice to the state’s new commuter rail company for services that were never under contract.
Wall said in an interview Thursday and in a television appearance Wednesday night that he wanted to distance himself from other people in DRM Advisory Group who made decisions that had affected him in his role as chairman.
“What has happened is that people have made decisions that have tarnished my integrity, and now I am in a fight for my life to defend who I am and what I represent,” he said.
Wall made the television appearance on Boston Neighborhood Network on the same day that he, the advisory group — also known as Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan Advisory Group — and the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III were the subject of a Globe column.
The column depicted a meeting that Rivers, another prominent community leader, had with a representative from Keolis North America in which Rivers handed the representative a $105,000 invoice for services that were never discussed, an episode that the Keolis official described as a “shakedown.” The invoice, which was also e-mailed, was signed by Wall.
Rivers, who allegedly told the Keolis representative that he was working “below the radar,” and that he was “secret ops,” denied doing anything wrong and said the invoice was meant to push Keolis to keep its commitment to diversity in running the state’s commuter rail system. He said he never expected any money. Rivers did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Wall has repeatedly said since the column was published that he joined the group to help assure minority communities of greater involvement in the state contract, but that he was being held responsible for the decisions of others.
“I’m not a businessman; I’m a pastor,” Wall said. “Frankly, I’m in over my head on this stuff.”
Wall did not identify Rivers as the person from whom he was trying to distance himself, but said: “I think Rev. Rivers is Rev. Rivers. I think he’s consistent in advocating for the community the way he does. I don’t think you could have expected anything different out of him.”
The depiction of the alleged “shakedown” of the Keolis representative caused a stir throughout Greater Boston, from the city’s black community to legal circles and the State House.
Governor Deval Patrick said on his regular radio appearance on WGBH on Thursday that he supported the concept of pushing for diversity in the Keolis contract and that the entire DRM group should not be judged by the actions of one member. He did not identify anyone by name.
“Do I think the whole program is tainted because one guy allegedly tried to control it? No, I don’t,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any evidence of that, either.”
Wall said he was trying to distance himself from the depiction of a “shakedown,” saying he was only trying to “shake up” Keolis’s stated commitment to working with the black community.
Legal analysts, speaking on the allegations in general and not about any individual, said charges of attempted extortion could be brought against any individual who makes a threat, not only of physical harm, but also economic harm.
“Demanding cash with threats of economic harm could easily be viewed by law enforcement as an attempted extortion,” said Brian Kelly, former head of the public corruption unit in the US attorney’s office in Boston, who now works as a defense lawyer.
Brad Bailey, also a former state and federal prosecutor who now works in criminal defense, said many other factors could be at play, such as whether a contract was discussed.
But he added: “As we know the facts, one certainly on the surface could look at it as a possible or attempted shakedown. You don’t have to have a threat of violence, a threat of criminal acts. You just have to have a threat that would make people do things or give up property that they wouldn’t normally give up,” he said.
Officials with the US attorney’s office in Boston, the state attorney general’s office, and the Suffolk district attorney would not comment on the allegations and would not say if they would investigate, citing their policy not to comment on investigations.
Aware that the Globe column was about to be published, Wall and other black community leaders from DRM went on the offensive Tuesday evening, trying to justify the invoice they sent to Keolis, which recently won a $2.68 billion contract to run the state’s commuter rail system. They discussed the invoice and the pending column on a radio show.
Keolis’s parent company, based in France, has been accused of discrimination against African and Muslim employees and has been criticized for its collaboration with Nazi leaders 70 years ago. The company is also under deadline pressure to meet a requirement of its Massachusetts contract that 15 percent of its vendors represent minority groups. The contract goes into effect July 1.
On Tuesday night, before the column was published, Wall told listeners of his show on Boston Praise radio to expect the piece and sought to explain the invoice, saying it was to push the company to engage the black community.
He said he was encouraged when Keolis officials told him that they were thankful for DRM Advisory Group’s support and that they wanted to continue working with the group. But he said he became concerned when he stopped hearing from them.
Wall said that DRM had previously presented a community action plan to Keolis and that the invoice was to put pressure on the company to keep its commitments. Keolis denies making the commitments reflected in the invoice.
“Everything was going relatively smooth, until we made the noise,” Wall said Tuesday, adding, “The invoice was to rattle the cage, to make them come back to the table.”
Other guests on Wall’s show seemed to be as direct: Leonard Lee, a community activist who said he does public health consulting work, said that the group researched the state’s existing commuter rail contract and that he was concerned that not enough jobs are currently going to minority communities.
“We knew the devil we were dealing with, and he wasn’t giving us a dime,” he said.
The Rev. Mark Scott, of DRM, said the idea for the invoice came after a lawyer in the group noted that Keolis had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a lobbyist.
“There were people in the room who were making money; there were people in the room who were getting paid,” Scott, associate pastor at Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, said on the radio show. “It wasn’t us.”
A community meeting is scheduled for April 22 at Wall’s Global Ministries Christian Church in Dorchester. A notice of the meeting — asking: “Give War a Chance?” — was sent to Keolis’s website Monday, signed by Shabazz Muhammad, an apparently fictitious name.
The message, accusing Keolis of racism and vowing to exact a “high price for discrimination against black people,” included an e-mail address that is owned by Lee. He denied sending the message and raised concerns that his e-mail was hacked. But he said he supported the underlying message of the note.