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It may be the most unusual cast of characters in a landlord-tenant dispute in Houston in years.
The tenant is the Quaker-sponsored American Friends Service Committee, in the person of Maria Jimenez, who runs a Committee project that monitors abuses of immigrants in Texas border communities.
The landlord is the Reverend "Mighty" Joe Young, an accountant who claims to be an ordained Methodist minister and heads a non-denominational "church," the Consistory for Charity, that's housed in an old East End tire factory on Harrisburg Boulevard.
Young says he's trying to evict Jimenez and her organization from the space they rent on the property because they espouse armed revolution. But the minister would much rather talk about how he's Lee Harvey Oswald's godfather and can prove that Oswald didn't shoot John F. Kennedy.
Jimenez's group moved into offices at Young's complex last December, after pressure from officials of the Mexican consulate resulted in the departure of the Friends Service Committee from the Latino Learning Center on Polk Street. At the time, Mexican officials complained that Jimenez's group was responsible for the picketing of the consulate offices and was supporting the Zapatista revolutionaries in Chiapas. Jimenez says that, in order to avoid embarrassing the operators of the Polk Street center, she moved out following the consulate's complaint.
Young maintains Jimenez and her supporters are engaging in political activities that may endanger his church's non-profit status. As proof, he points to the posters of masked Zapatistas and other revolutionary figures on the walls in one of the Service Committee's offices. He also claims that members of groups affiliated with Jimenez have harassed him, dumped trash in his car and left his building unlocked and open to vandals. The minister says he has filed a 30-day eviction notice and wants the Service Committee out as soon as possible.
The 68-year-old Young runs a rather unusual operation himself. Along with the Friends Service Committee, his complex also houses the Stewardship Thrift Shop, a retraining program for county probationers and an office crammed with files of companies for which Young says he provides accounting services. The minister says he took over the Consistory for Charity several years ago after its previous rector was arrested and convicted of sex offenses with minors. The building's owner, according to Young, lives in Hong Kong and leases him the building through a local property manager. The owner has paid property taxes on the building through last year, leading Jimenez to question whether the complex is, in fact, church property.
David Huddlesten, a University of Houston student, assists Young at the Consistory and says they're in the process of making the facility ready for church functions. Huddlesten says he met Young "through fate at the Bellaire Post Office at 2 a.m. He was over there trying to sell this truck to a little Chinese guy." After that auspicious introduction, Huddlesten says, he started visiting Young's church and helping out with chores. He also serves as Young's unpaid paparazzi, snapping pictures of unwelcome visitors on the property. Recently, he turned his lens on Harris County Treasurer Don Sumner, who was visiting Jimenez to discuss housing issues.
"I was amazed by this kid taking the pictures,"says Sumner. "He was real aggressive, right in our face, saying, 'Do you know this a church?' and, 'We think there's political activities going on.' Well, you know, the Catholic Church is involved in political activities if you think of it that way, and just about every other church is, too."
Huddlesten claims that when Jimenez and her group moved in, they did so under the guise of being a church. He also says that the $300-a-month lease agreement was altered by Jimenez's associates to include other groups with specific political aims. (Among the groups affiliated with Jimenez are the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Mexico, which supports the Zapatistas, and the Coordinator of Self-Defense and Citizen Participation, which Jimenez says organizes Mexican nationals in Houston to promote social change in Mexico.)
Jimenez denies that her Quaker-sponsored group is doing anything illegal. "We believe in the dignity of human beings and the dignity of the individual," she says. "On the international level we work on reconciliation and peace issues, and domestically in helping communities, particularly the marginalized and powerless, organize to express their voice at all levels."
The other groups Young complains about, Jimenez says, are working on issues of peace and democracy in Mexico. "We do vigils in front of the Mexican consulate, forums, and we have sent peace delegations [to Chiapas]." She does agree that her work "is highly political, because we deal with institutions and wrongs."
As for her landlord, Jimenez says, "he tells me in his office he has very valuable materials because he knows who killed John Kennedy and that Barbara Walters has a $100,000 contract with him." Moreover, Young told the Press that he and his late wife were paid a million dollars by unnamed persons not to spill the beans on the JFK assassination.