Board members of the Ella J. Baker House in Dorchester are defending the agency's executive director after disclosure that he illegally collected unemployment, has been delinquent in child support payments, and was wanted on a criminal warrant for traffic violations.
Kevin C. Peterson was named by the board last year to run the facility for troubled youth.
"We were more than satisfied that he was the right choice to lead the Baker House, a decision we are even more convinced of now, given his stellar record of turning around an organization whose very existence was imperiled only a few months ago," board members wrote in a Jan. 18 letter to Baker House supporters.
Peterson also defended himself last night, saying that he had worked hard on issues of importance to the community.
"Those who know me, they know the sacrifices and commitment I have made on behalf of the city's most vulnerable," he said in a written statement.
In 2005, Peterson stepped down as the head of Mayor Thomas M. Menino's elections task force after news reports suggested he was delinquent on child support payments and wanted on a criminal warrant for traffic violations.
It had been reported that Peterson owed $41,000 in support payments for his two children and that two former girlfriends had taken out restraining orders against him. A charge of raping a former girlfriend in 2001 was dismissed.
At that time, he was executive director of the New Democracy Coalition, a nonprofit voting advocacy group.
In 1997, while he led the voter registration group Part of the Solution, he acknowledged illegally collecting unemployment benefits in addition to his salary for several months when he was a top aide to Councilor Gareth R. Saunders in 1995.
Officials said Peterson owed the city $3,264 plus $978 in interest for benefits he received while on its payroll.
Peterson, then 34, called his actions "a horrible, horrible, horrible mistake."
In their letter, Baker House board members told supporters that they knew of the charges and allegations against Peterson before hiring him and that he had addressed them.
"Point by point, he took us through each allegation, separated fact from fiction, enumerated all of the various distortions and lies, and answered all of our questions," board members wrote. "He was forthright throughout."
Peterson also worked without pay during his first three months at Baker House, the letter stated, "moving heaven and earth to find badly needed funding" for the agency.
The controversy is not the first for the facility.
Last year, Derrick Patrick, a former Baker House counselor, pleaded guilty to four counts of paying for sex with a teenage girl who had sought mentoring at the agency.
Patrick was sentenced to two years' probation and 60 days in jail.
The events led the Rev. Eugene Rivers, the founder of Baker House, to relinquish management of the facility, although he still sits on the board.
Some private and public funding agencies also broke with the house.
Woolhouse can be reached at email@example.com.