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Article V: Murder for Hire, Aggressive Bad Press Campaign and other Distasteful Actions: Social Ventures in Africa? by Brian Ray Dinning, social venture lawyer

Article V: Murder for Hire, Aggressive Bad Press Campaign and other Distasteful Actions:  Social Ventures in Africa?

By:  Brian Ray Dinning, JD, LLM and Social Venture Lawyer

 

July 10, 2012

I know that some of these stories are hard to believe, and my reason for telling them is not out of revenge, hatred or bitterness, but rather to simply tell truth and the reason for why it has been a great challenge to accomplish the goals, vision and mission I have had for Africa.  I am sure most of you reading this have had obstacles standing between you and your dreams.  For the social venture partners and me, it was not just one person or one thing standing in the way, it was a mixture of people, many of whom I thought were my friends and business partners.  Unfortunately, many of these people demonstrated a lack of integrity, honesty and professionalism.  While I along with others have lost a great deal trying to help the people of Africa, one thing that I still have is the heart and passion to help the needy communities and hopefully make a positive change for future generations.

So up to this point, my vision for the social venture projects in Africa was slowed down or hindered by the fraud of Wextrust Capital and then by the drug-using financial partners.  Can you see why changes had to be made to the entire business structure and social venture projects so that the projects could continue to move forward?  I thought the situation with Rick, Lou and John described in the “Article IV:  Cocaine, Ecstasy and Swingers:  Social Ventures in Africa?” was inconceivable,[1] however, the next situation is one that I never thought would ever happen, especially from doctors like Granville Batte and Allan Stiner.

Upon our return to the United States in January, 2006 from the crazy trip to South Africa with Rick, Lou and John, I was shaken and unsure about the reliability of the Pure Africa Management funding sources and the new management team.  As our South African social venture partners asked me to “not allow those guys (John, Rick and Lou) to come back to the local community” based upon their drug use, partying and overall unprofessional behavior, I was unsure of what to do.  Many of you might ask, why did you continue to work at these social venture projects with so many interruptions, bad behavior and illegal actions by our financial partners?  Because I, along with my social venture partners in Africa, believe that we were called into this ministry to help the poor in Africa become more sustainable and self-sufficient and to help them maximize their resources to create income and jobs for them and for us.  In fact, the entire world was beginning to take notice of social ventures because of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oprah Winfrey and the Grameen Bank. Furthermore, a number of us had already donated or invested money to start these projects and we wanted to work hard to try to save that investment of money along with years of hard work.

I had to begin making plans to slowly distance myself from my new partners and yet at the same time, I had accepted a new job with them and I needed the consulting income until I could find new financial partners.  Additionally, the four of us had already started setting up a new fund, The Pure Africa Sustainable Development Fund that would be operated by Pure Africa Management.  John had invited friends and colleagues to meet for a presentation on the Fund on several occasions in late 2005 and early 2006 and several people were interested in investing into the social ventures.

Rick, Lou and John offered me a consulting job from the Fund at an annual consulting salary of $250,000 pursuant to a written Consulting Agreement with the Fund.  As funding for my position was not regular and would only be available when funding was available, I was offered a draw salary with use of debit cards and bank accounts as money was available.  As I was the only full-time consultant, I was also told that my consulting income was first priority over payment of all other expenses. As I was (and still am) entirely committed to our African projects, I offered to pay back my draw compensation if the projects didn’t succeed within ten years.

By mid-2006, the Fund had five investors who invested a total of $545,000, one of whom was John and the others were his friends and colleagues, whom he invited and recruited into the Fund.  Lou prepared financial statements and Rick prepared status reports for the investors.  I provided needed help from the business plan writing and draft legal documents.  However, the Fund was dysfunctional because of the prior drug use and unprofessional behavior by John and others and the inherent mistrust caused by their partying lifestyle and criminal actions.  I was forced to adapt and change the projects already underway and restructure midway through or lose everything.  At my request, we all agreed that the Fund would stop raising money for the foreseeable future, in my mind, to protect others against any further potential loss or negative actions and to secure a management team that the local community and social venture partners would accept.

One of the first investors into the Fund was a long time friend of John and also a friend of Rick and Lou.  His name was Dr. Allan Stiner of Norfolk, Virginia.[2]  Pure Africa Management agreed to allow Dr. Stiner to invest his $250,000 into the Fund in February, 2006.  In February, 2006, in a meeting with Dr. Stiner at his home, he reviewed the legal documents a final time and signed the Subscription Agreement.  However, in making his investment, he had one other request:  he would only invest his money if Rick, Lou and John had no access to his funds as he was aware of the bad behavior of the group in South Africa the month before.

As the Fund was intentionally winding down in the Summer of 2006, two of John’s colleagues, Dr. Jeff McTavish and Dr. Granville Batte[3] approached me. We began to discuss the establishment of a new consulting company called Pure Africa, LLC to take over management of the social venture projects as they agreed that the social venture projects should disassociate from Rick, Lou and John.  Batte had recently lost his job and he had time to spend on the projects.  Dr. McTavish said he could devote his spare time to helping manage the projects.  This opportunity seemed like it had the potential to replace the failed management team from Pure Africa Management.  I discussed openly the past failures of the prior financial partners with both McTavish and Batte as it is always wise to provide full disclosure to everyone involved.

Like all other financial partners, Batte and Dr. McTavish were interested in taking a due diligence trip to view the projects for themselves.  In October, 2006, Dr. Batte and I took a trip to South Africa to visit the project at Coffee Bay and Hole in the Wall.  The trip went well and everything seemed ok.  At the conclusion of the trip, however, Batte decided to stay on in South Africa and travel with some male companions of very ill repute[4] he had just met – they were going for a month or so to Coffee Bay and then to Lake Kariba for a fishing trip.  I warned Batte that he should not go on this trip as he had just met these nefarious companions and that many places in remote Africa can be very dangerous.  Oddly enough, Batte stayed on with the travel companions for a month or so in Africa and I returned back to the United States.

In January, 2007, Dr. McTavish, Batte, Stiner and others went on a trip to the Wild Coast of South Africa.  Everyone had agreed to focus on the projects on the Wild Coast of South Africa because of the sheer beauty and market potential of these social ventures. Furthermore, no one seemed to trust the social venture partner, Michael van der Merwe, who was one of the founders of the farm, tourism lodge and diamond mine projects.[5]

The trip was generally good and everyone was excited about the projects.  We met with our legal team, Sotheby’s, and other professional team members as well as our social venture partners and the local community.  However, toward the end of the trip I began to grow concerned about Stiner’s behavior.  He seemed kind of withdrawn and emotional, erratic, as if in the throes of a personal crisis.  Commenting about Stiner’s emotional behavior, a fellow traveller on our trip said Stiner “seemed fine at the beginning of our trip, but the last few days of our time in Africa he was acting odd: not making eye contact, crying, and distancing himself from the group.”

During this time, Stiner gave me a book called “The Wonga Coup” and he stated that I should read it because it was going to happen to me.[6]  I immediately read the book about a group of wealthy men and mercenaries who organized a plot to overthrow a country in Africa to take over the oil and other riches of the country for themselves.  I did not understand what he meant at that time but over the next few months and up to the present time, I now have a much better understanding of what he meant.  He meant that from that time forward, Batte, Dirk Uys and others began to think about how they could either take over the projects for themselves and assume management control or discredit me and destroy the projects.[7]  After our experience with Wextrust Capital, this was unfortunately not a novel concept.

At the end of our trip, an acquaintance, Gerhard Dreyer, a minerals and mining attorney from South Africa came to visit me with Batte in the lobby of my hotel in Pretoria.  Dreyer pitched two new mining projects to me, but I wasn’t interested as I already had too much work on my plate.  Batte stepped in and agreed to do the financing for the new mining projects, while I would remain separate concentrating on the Wild Coast social venture projects.

Upon our return to the United States, Batte, McTavish and I began to solidify the Pure Africa consulting company to allow us to keep track of our time and expenses.  Dr. Batte wanted to have a salary of $350,000 per year as he lost from his job as a doctor in 2006.  I signed my consulting agreement with Pure Africa and we all began to track our time and expenses as they related to specific projects through an Excel spreadsheet program created by Dr. McTavish.[8]

Just a few weeks later, Batte became increasingly dictatorial, making an aggressive push to control Pure Africa and her social venture projects, especially the new mining projects.  He told both Dr. McTavish and I that he wanted to manage and control the projects of Pure Africa as the primary person in charge.  It was surprising that he did this as Pure Africa was a collaborative, communal venture and not one that was singularly directed.  In addition to Batte’s misunderstanding of our mission, he also had zero business experience and we just learned that Batte and his travel companions were reviled by the tribal leaders for some terrible behavior.  So, of course, we refused his request.

Word of the conduct of Batte’s travel companions and, by implication Batte, was making the rounds and it was worse than we ever could have imagined.  The tribal leaders reported that members of his party were paying young boys in the local community for sex.  We were shocked.  The economic inequities that we were trying to address between America and Africa are staggering, and to take advantage of that gap in wealth to pressure children with little opportunity into prostituting themselves is appalling.  It turns out that the month-long trip that Batte took, that seemed so risky and puzzling to me at the time, was reportedly a male-only sex party, which later carried over into the Hole in the Wall and Coffee Bay area causing us to have to take immediate action to protect the local children and the social venture projects.  I had the unfortunate difficulty of carefully documenting this in an email to Batte in April, 2007.[9]  I was asked by our social venture partners and the community tribal leaders to not allow Batte and his companions to come back to Hole in the Wall and Coffee Bay.[10]

 Again, terrible conduct by others made us have to restructure our entire business model and work toward insulating the local community and the projects from any further harm from people with bad intentions.  Dr. McTavish and I immediately demanded that Batte leave Pure Africa.  However, Batte did not go gracefully, but implemented every bullying tactic in the book “The Wonga Coup” by launching a planned and coordinated attack on my character and the social venture projects. Through this slanderous and calculated attack, Batte not only took over the mining projects but he also permanently damaged business relationships and projects.

Batte began an aggressive bad press campaign against me by sending emails to our social venture partners and financial partners.  Steve Geller, a golf course renovator who was working with Earth Conservancy on the golf course project in Coffee Bay, received one of these emails from Batte.  In forwarding the email, Geller said about Batte, “I can usually tell when someone is “different”, very different!!!”  In the email, Batte states:

 my suggestion is to start an AGGRESSIVE ‘bad press’ campain, and I will happy to pitch in as well . . . I also know of others who are very unhappy and might be willing to coordinate as well. The most important thing is to ‘DO IT’ and not just talk about wanting to do it . . . I don’t know exactly how much help I can be, but we can surely share stories and information.  Yes, I’m pissed-off too, and like many others, have my own ax to grind.[11]

This was the first real evidence I had of the coordinated and planned attack on my character and the attempted “coup” or take-over of our projects.  One of the “others” that Dr. Batte began his coordinated his aggressive bad press campaign with was Stiner.  On February 17, 2007, shortly after our trip to South Africa, Stiner asked me to meet him at the Pure Africa office in Norfolk Virginia.  At this meeting, Stiner clearly wanted out of the projects.  He was in the midst of a failed real estate venture with his brother and no longer wanted to participate in our African projects, demanding that we return his money.  Stiner said to me, “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”  Stiner laid out six notecards in front of me.  On the note cards were written names and addresses “of friends and fraternity brothers in high places who can bring you a world of pain” Stiner stated.  He named the individuals on the cards as a litigation attorney, a journalist, a US attorney, an FBI agent, a Federal Judge and lastly, an organized crime person from Philadelphia.  Stiner said, if he did not get his money back by April 15, 2007 that he would ask all of “his friends in high places” to come after me.  Referring to the organized crime contact, Stiner ominously said, “if you want to spend the rest of your life with your children and family, you better get my money back.”

Since Stiner’s money had already been used to pay consulting fees, business expenses and project expenses, the companies did not have the money to give him.  Trying to stop him from hurting me or anyone else, the companies offered him a promissory note and company shares to placate him.  On April 12, 2007, Stiner again asked me to meet him.  I stated that it had to be in a public place like Starbucks.  Speaking loudly and aggressively at this lengthy meeting, Stiner stated that he had hired some sort of mobster from Philadelphia who would “fuck me up,” and “that the days of your life are numbered.”

I wrote Stiner on April 24, 2007 by certified mail to remind him that he’d threatened my life and those of my family, and that he was recklessly heading down a very dangerous path.[12] His response was chilling and simple, he said “the sand in the hourglass is almost empty.”[13]

Stiner, having seemingly come unhinged, called Dr. McTavish and told him of his plot. Dr. McTavish recounted to me that Stiner calmly and deliberately described his plan to hurt or kill me.  Stiner informed McTavish about his mafia friends in Philadelphia and the fact that he had hired or was about to hire someone from Philadelphia to travel to Virginia for the purpose of hurting or killing me. Dr. McTavish’s wife urged McTavish to call me immediately and to warn me of Dr. Stiner’s plan.  Upon hearing of the plan from McTavish, I immediately called my wife to warn her of Stiner’s threat.  I also called my children’s school to warn them as well.

I contacted the local police to tell them of Stiner’s threats against me, my wife and my children and the officer gave me a police report number and assured me that they would dispatch police to patrol the area around my home.  I was also referred to the police in Norfolk, Virginia because Stiner’s threats occurred in Norfolk.  I visited the Norfolk Police Department and informed the Norfolk Police of Stiner’s threats.  An Emergency Protective Order was entered against Stiner prohibiting him from any contact with me or my family and he was later arrested for stalking and threats to my life. The Emergency Protective Order issued by a Judge reads:

“Mr. Dinning works for Earth Conservancy and received a cash donation from Dr. Stiner earlier this year.  Since that time Dr. Stiner has requested the return of his donation.  Mr. Dinning alleges that Dr. Stiner has been extremely aggressive and hostile in his attempts to get the money returned. Accordingly, Dr. Stiner has made numerous phone calls and met with Mr. Dinning in person making threats to his person and his family.  He is in fear for his life and that of his family.” [14]

Stiner, however, was not finished.  Calling my church, Stiner told my church leaders that the social venture projects are not real and that I should not be allowed to lead a Bible study (which my wife and I did for three years).  Stiner also contacted Professor Dr. William Brown, Fulbright Scholar, Church Deacon and Board Member at Earth Conservancy and Dr. Brown’s employer at Regent University to discredit me and the social venture projects as part of the aggressive bad press campaign.  Dr. Brown told me that he interpreted these actions by Dr. Stiner as “aggressive and threatening”.  In an email, Brown states that Dr. Stiner’s statements were “untrue” and “slanderous.”[15]  Stiner also contacted Professor Joseph Umidi, a Senior Pastor and Board Member at Earth Conservancy at his place of employment at Regent University to discredit me and the social venture projects.  In an email confirming Stiner’s negative call, Dr. Umidi states that Stiner’s statements were “bothersome and bordering on intimidation.”[16]

This aggressive bad press campaign by Batte, Stiner and others was a planned and coordinated coup attempt to take over the projects for themselves.  In departing from Pure Africa, Batte filed a lawsuit through his father against me.  As part of this lawsuit, Batte demanded the rights to two mining projects in exchange for agreeing to stay away from the community and projects at Coffee Bay and Hole in the Wall.  It is my understanding that Batte ruined the two mining projects shortly thereafter by threats and intimidation against Attorney Gerhard Dreyer.

Even to this day, Batte, Stiner and others have continued to harass me, slander me and try to harm me and my family.  This current action is the work of Batte and Stiner starting in early 2007 as part of the negative bad press campaign.  When enough negative information (even if false) is spoken, written and reported by people, it begins to look like the truth.  The truth is:  I look forward to the opportunity to face these men in court and see them testify on the witness stand about their aggressive bad press campaign and more importantly – the murder-for-hire plot of Stiner and the reckless and damaging actions of Batte and his travel companions in Hole in the Wall and Coffee Bay.  These two people, more than any other, have delayed, damaged and even halted the beautiful community projects on the Wild Coast of South Africa.

So, the social venture partners, Dr. McTavish and I began to reorganize, regroup and continue to move forward in our vision to help the people of Africa.  Many times I have questioned whether it is worth it – is helping others worth the loss of reputation, the loss of liberty and freedom and even the loss of life.  I am comforted by the words of so many business pioneers who state that perseverance is the key to success.  Like President Nelson Mandela states: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” 

                                                  NELSON MANDELA, Autobiography


[1] See www.socialentrepreneurshipinafrica.com for the full series of Articles.

[2]  Dr. Allan Stiner’s background is at http://www.vitals.com/doctors/Dr_Allan_Stiner.html

[3] Dr. Granville Batte’s background is at http://www.vitals.com/doctors/Dr_William_Batte.html

[4] Dirk Uys and his friends are South African professional hunters and anti-poaching mercenaries that frequent a bar named “At the Asshole” (in English).  Dirk told many stories about poachers and “kaffirs” he had killed over the years and he bragged about a collection of knives, spears and other possessions he had taken from his victims.  Our social venture partner, Bossie Bosman, and a game ranger warned me about their past background and bad reputation in January, 2007.

[5] An investigation of Michael van der Merwe was conducted in 2008 and our concerns about his character, his projects and the loss of our investment were confirmed by the investigator.

[7] According to Sotheby’s International Realty and many others, the project at Hole in the Wall and other breath-taking sites were some of the finest oceanfront real estate in South Africa.  In fact, the social venture project at Hole in the Wall was written up on Conde Nast Home “Hot Properties” in 2008 and the projects had the potential of making millions of dollars for the the local communities in Africa, the social venture partners and the financial partners.

[8] Dr. McTavish created an Excel spreadsheet so that all of our consulting time, business expenses and personal expenses could be tracked and allocated on a project by project basis.

[9] See attached email dated April 22, 2007 from me to Dr. Batte.

[10] Child trafficking and pedophilia is a major problem in Coffee Bay and Hole in the Wall.  In addressing this problem, our church-based missions teams and I organized two full-time orphan care missionaries to work in Coffee Bay and we built a church/community center and orphanage playground.  Most of the child sex trade centered around a local Shabeen or bar in Coffee Bay.  To the joy of the local community and the church missions teams, the owner of the bar was subsequently charged with 104 counts of sexual assault of children.  We all agreed that Batte and his travel companions had to leave Pure Africa and the social venture projects.  For more information on the child trafficking problem on the Wild Coast, see http://ufh.netd.ac.za/bitstream/10353/364/1/Ngwira%20(M%20Sc)%20Geography.pdf

[11] See email from Dr. Batte to Steve Geller.  To this day, Dr. Batte and his coordinated group have maliciously attacked me, my family and the social venture projects in South Africa and they are the principle motivators of the current charges pending against me.

[12] See Certified Letter to Stiner dated April 24, 2007.

[13] See Email from Stiner.  I interpreted Dr. Stiner’s statement to mean that I did not have many days of his life remaining, because Stiner was going to carry out one of his threats to kill me.  Based on this statement, I truly feared for my life and the lives of my wife and children.

[14] See Emergency Protective Order against Dr. Allan Stiner.

[15] See Email from Dr. William Brown, Ph.D regarding Stiner.

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