WRAL Investigates

NC minority chamber leader has criminal past

Posted May 2, 2011 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2011 2:29 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Regional Black Chamber of Commerce is one of the largest minority chambers in the Southeast, boasting more than 200 members. 

Now, the future of the chamber is in limbo after the man who ran the chamber was revealed to be wanted on charges of taking advantage of a Hurricane Katrina victim.

Kim Burke, owner of the Burke Learning Center, was one of the chamber members drawn in by Regional Black Chamber President Brandon Trainer.

“He is great with words. He can sell himself,” she said.

Rashelle Brooks, the chief executive of career management company Work + Wealth, grew to trust Trainer.

“Brandon is very charismatic, very smart,” she said.

Trainer helped build chamber membership with networking opportunities and hope.

“I thought ‘Wow, this is someone interested in helping me grow my business,’” Burke said.

That high praise hit a road block when Trainer was pulled over for speeding on April 3 in Orange County. Law enforcement soon found out that Trainer was wanted in another state.

Burke said Trainer called her.

“He said, ‘I’m going to need you to bond me out,’” she said.

Burke said she thought, 'No problem. This must be a mistake.”

Court records out of Clay County, Mo., show Trainer, 26, is accused of defrauding a woman whose family was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Trainer is accused of acting as a mortgage broker in 2006 and taking $1,500 from Claymiko Mays so she could relocate her family to Missouri, according to an affidavit.

Trainer was charged with felony theft. After posting bond in Missouri, he left town. The charge is still pending.

“I think he’s conniving. I can’t even call him a human being. He’s not a human being. I think he’s cold-hearted, manipulating (and) messing with people’s lives,” Mays told WRAL Investigates by phone.

Three years later, Trainer surfaced in Raleigh and incorporated the chamber.

He started networking and recruiting businesses, all while touting a Harvard University education. During an interview with WCOM-FM in Carrboro, Trainer boasted his Ivy League past.

“I was always taught to go to college,” he said in the interview. “So, if Harvard fell through, I can still hang drywall, hang a door. I had a trade I could fall back on.”

An old Facebook page shows Trainer wearing Harvard gear and listing his hometown as Cambridge, Mass., where Harvard is located.

To members of the chamber, the prestigious education was a draw.

“He was a Harvard graduate. He was a Harvard guy,” Burke said.

But Trainer didn’t graduate from Harvard. WRAL News found he was never enrolled as an undergraduate but, according to the Harvard's Extension School, he did attend class one semester in 2008.

“He took my trust and he took my money,” Burke said.

Burke contacted WRAL Investigates after she spent $1,850 to bond Trainer out of the Orange County jail on felony fugitive charges.

Despite text messages promising to repay her, Trainer never came through. He tried to reimburse Burke using a check from the chamber, but it bounced because of insufficient funds.

“That is when all the alarms went off to say, ‘Where is the money from our chamber?’” Burke said.

Many chamber members paid a $300 fee to join. It is still unclear what happened to the money. Soon after WRAL Investigates first tried to contact Trainer, the chamber's website was taken down.

Burke and her fellow business people vow to overcome deception, saying it will not kill the chamber.

“We’re a great chamber, and we’re not going to let Brandon take it from us. It’s not his to take,” Burke said.

Crystal Roberts, owner of Mountaintop Productions public relations firm, agrees.

“Our businesses are not going to dry up. We're still going to put one foot in front of the other. So, why not pull each other together?” she said.

Trainer told WRAL Investigates by phone that he “simply forgot” about his outstanding charges in Missouri. When asked about Harvard, he admitted he didn't graduate but said he attended the school for three semesters.

Trainer said he would sit down with WRAL Investigates for an interview on Wednesday.