WSBT FACT FINDER: Benton Harbor social activist has long criminal past


The man at the center of Benton Harbor's mayoral recall election appears in court Tuesday.

65-year-old Rev. Edward Pinkney is charged with 11 counts of election fraud.

On Thursday, a judge ordered the election be put on hold because a police investigation revealed petitions had been tampered with.

WSBT's Fact Finder Denise Bohn did some digging and discovered Pinkney has been in trouble with the law many times, and he's no stranger to election fraud claims.

In 1997, he served prison time on five voter fraud charges including paying people $5 to vote a certain way in a recall election.

"What we want to do is make sure we get ourselves prepared to fight...'cause this thing is going to get ugly," Pinkney said during a 2006 rally which can be found on YouTube.

Pinkney is a self-proclaimed political, social and civil rights activist in Benton Harbor.

His has a Twitter account with nearly 850 followers. His last post followed his arrest on 11 new election fraud charges related to a recall effort against Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower.

Pinkney also hosts a blog radio talk show.

Court documents show Pinkney's legal run-ins began 24 years ago.

A Michigan Department of Corrections investigation revealed he used an alias name of Paris Warren, as well as multiple Social Security numbers and birth dates.

In 1990, Pinkney pleaded guilty to theft in St. Louis, Missouri and served one-year probation. That same year in Oakland, Calif., he was sentenced to 25 days in jail and three years probation for assault with a dangerous weapon.

In 1991 in Kalamazoo, Mich., Pinkney pleaded guilty to false statement of financial condition.

Then In '99 in Benton Township, he pleaded guilty to embezzlement and spent 14 months in prison and 2 years on parole.

Records show Pinkney worked for Mutual of Omaha Insurance and was charged with taking premiums from customers and not turning them in. He also made himself the beneficiary on some policies.

Following his release from prison, Pinkney became an ordained minister, setting up the "Black Autonomy Network Community Organization" designed to work for economic and social justice in Benton Harbor.

Visitors to the website are encouraged to boycott companies like Whirlpool and KitchenAid and to donate to BANCO'S defense fund to pay Pinkney's legal fees.

Donations are directed to his home, where Pinkney is currently on house arrest. That's where reporter Denise Bohn and a cameraman caught up with him.

Pinkney talked openly on his disappointment about a recent judge's ruling to suspend next week's recall election, but when the line of questioning turned to his past, Pinkney became uncomfortable.

"Some people in town would call you a con man," Bohn said.

"Some people call me a hero, too," Pinkney responded.

"You used multiple aliases. You used different Social Security numbers. What do you say to those claims? " asked Bohn.

"Thank you, this is over," Pinkney said while shutting his front door and refusing to answer any further questions.

Court documents obtained by WSBT News also revealed in '07, Pinkney was jailed for probation violation for writing an article calling a Berrien County judge a racist and dumb.

He also reportedly lied about being born and raised in Benton Harbor, telling cops he grew up in Chicago.

In a pre-sentence investigation, he also told police he had worked at the Kalamazoo Post Office for 12 years, but police found no record Pinkney ever worked there.

Pinkney's Banco group is planning a demonstration against "Voter Suppression" outside Benton Harbor City Hall later this month.