At the turn of the Century, Thomas F. Lewis (b. 1858, d. 1924), president of the Brooklyn City Building & Loan Association Co-operative found himself in the middle of a major power struggle with other members of the board.
The Association was organized on March 2, 1887 in the old hall at Third Avenue and 24th Street in South Brooklyn. It opened with 15 charter members. Within the first year, it had accumulated over $80,000 of assets. By 1890, the association’s assets had grown to $250,000. When the “great Panic of 1893” occurred, the association not only survived, but actually increased it’s assets. In 1895, the association moved its offices to 91 Court Street. It also had a branch office at 76 39th Street. In 1897, the assets had grown to a whopping $465,000.
Thomas F. Lewis’ primary job was as a real estate broker in the Brooklyn area. It’s not clear how or when he became involved with the Association, but by 1897, he was the Association’s President. It appears that his role as the president was a “part-time” job, although he maintained a desk in the office of the Association at 91 Court Street. He was paid a nominal salary for his services, which prevented him from leaving his Real Estate business.
Trouble seemed to start on January 31, 1901 when an article was published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle entitled “They Hoped For Better Times”. The article talked about the collapse of the Kings County Co-operative and quoted Thomas F. Lewis several times about the problems plaguing Associations in modern times.
Just three days later, Thomas wrote a Letter To The Editor, rebutting many of the quoted remarks published in The Brooklyn Eagle article just days before.
Then, at 1 AM in the morning of February 13, 1901, Joseph V. Sculley, the Associations Vice President, reportedly ran to the local Police Station and requested a Police Officer to come to the association’s office and stand by while an emergency audit of the books was performed. Apparently, at a regular meeting of the board, it was discovered that a member of the Association was 6 months in arrears of a mortgage commitment. According to the by-laws of the Association, any lateness at all should have resulted in the Boards immediate notification. Thomas F. Lewis indicated that he knew nothing of the tardiness, but the Financial Secretary, J. H. Kampf, admitted he did.
In an apparent “abundance of caution”, the board immediately suspended both the President and the Financial Secretary, pending a full audit and investigation. It appears that the Board ultimately held Thomas Lewis accountable for Mr. Kampf’s actions. Whether this was the opportunity the board was looking for to get rid of him or not is not clear, but the timing of events is most certainly interesting.
Although the audit revealed that the books balanced out to within a penny, the investigation went on. Relations between Thomas and the Board remained strained when members of the Board were charged with Larceny for breaking into Thomas’s desk at the office on Court Street. Thomas contended that the desk only contained money, legal papers and documents related to his Real Estate business and the board had no business going into the desk. The charges were later dropped when Thomas withdrew his complaint.
In October 1901, Thomas Lewis sued the association to recover $106 of his salary due. The outcome of the suit is not yet known, but Thomas never returned to the Association.
The many details of the events mentioned are contained in multiple Brooklyn Eagle articles, which have I have compiled into a single PDF document. You can see ads and read the many articles by clicking the link below.