By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Shortly after his parole from prison, Binder launched WBD, Save the Children's Lives. It's a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation registered with the state of Texas. Binder is listed as the chief executive officer. Among the board of directors are the Reverend Williams of Joy Tabernacle Baptist Church, as well as Binder's oldest son, Aaron, who is a minister at Mount Hebron Baptist Church. GuideStar, a Web site that offers information about non-profits, shows Save the Children's Lives as having 35 full-time employees. But on a recent visit to the foundation's $7,500-a-month offices in the Mesa Building on Richmond at Fountainview, fewer than a half dozen workers were on hand, and those present did not seem especially busy.
Rebuilding his image is obviously a high priority for Binder. On his own Web site, he includes a letter of support from Howard E. Jefferson, president of the Houston chapter of the NAACP. And Binder's promotional packet includes a short message to "Minister Jeremiah" from Mayor Lee Brown.
"Just a brief note to say it was certainly my pleasure seeing you the other day," writes the mayor. "Also, I extend my best wishes for your continuous success in your important work. It was good visiting with you and hope to do so again some time soon."
When contacted by the Houston Press, a spokesperson for the mayor attempted to downplay the chummy tone of the letter. Although as police chief, Brown testified at Binder's drug trial back in 1988, the spokesperson says that the mayor did not know that Jeremiah was Binder when he sent the letter, which was basically a courtesy note. The spokesperson also says that Binder must have been part of a large group when he most recently visited the mayor.
Also included in Binder's promotional material and on his Web site (www.wbdsavethechildren.org) is Binder's lengthy wish list of ambitious projects. At the top of that list is a "transitional living facility" for people suffering from HIV and AIDS. Despite being cash poor, Binder is convinced he can obtain enough grant money or latch on to a wealthy benefactor to fund the facility, which would provide a place to live for those too sick to work as well as resources to help them get on with their lives once, and if, they recover. Binder claims to have had serious discussions with the Houston Department of Housing and Community Development about the project. However, in a letter to the Press, HCD director Margie Bingham says that after searching the department's files, her staff could find no record of any negotiations between Binder and the city. Additionally, several people whom Binder says are supporting his new cause, and whom he suggested the Press contact, did not return calls from the paper. The list includes Monica Lamb of the Houston Comets, the Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church and the Reverend James Dixon of Northwest Community Baptist Church.
Since WBD, Save the Children's Lives' annual income is less than $25,000, the organization is not required to file an annual 990 informational return with the Internal Revenue Service. Thus far, most of Binder's budget is the result of a loan from an old friend, Jeanette Huff, the owner of A Splice of Hair, a beauty parlor in Greenway Plaza. Shortly after Binder was released from prison in 1998, Huff lent Binder's foundation $20,000 in start-up funds. Some of it also went toward Binder's Lincoln Navigator. Huff doesn't regret her decision but says Binder is easily distracted by women looking for a man.
"He has a bad problem with that," says Huff. "He'll find somebody that's a con artist -- someone who can talk just as fast as him -- and he'll go with them rather than staying rooted. It's a learning phase for him. I was very angry at first. He's wasted a lot of time and a lot of money I've invested."
However, Huff also believes Binder is becoming more focused, and she is convinced that Binder is a changed man, a spiritual man.
Binder was sentenced to 40 years, says Huff, then "all of sudden he comes up (for parole) in ten years and gets out. Well, apparently something must have taken place."
Before the new sentencing guidelines were enacted in the late 1980s, it wasn't uncommon to release prisoners after serving only a fraction of their sentences. But the fact that someone as notorious as Binder would get out after serving only ten years on a 40-year sentence also raised eyebrows in the law-enforcement community.
In November 1998, two months after Johnny Binder was paroled from federal prison, Houston police officer Cedric Rodgers and Stevon McCarter, an employee of Rap-A-Lot Records, were arrested and accused of stealing $30,000 from two men on their way to make a drug buy. Three other men with connections to the Houston-based record company were also later indicted along with Rodgers and McCarter. During McCarter's trial, Binder's name surfaced -- not as a drug dealer, but in connection with how the defendant was busted.
During cross examination by defense attorney Randy Schaffer (Kent's brother), government informant Phyllis Conner testified that, until recently, she had been employed by Binder to do marketing and promotions for his foundation. As he continued to question Conner, Schaffer attempted to suggest that Binder had been involved in setting up the defendants.